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Finding the Heart of Your Story: Nurturing Your Original Idea

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George Galdorisi Southern California Writer's Association

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Finding the Heart of Your Story: Nurturing Your Original Idea

  1. 1. Finding the Heart of Your Story: Nurturing Your Original Idea George Galdorisi Southern California Writer’s Association February 17, 2018
  2. 2. Finding the Heart of Your Story: Nurturing Your Original Idea We are going to explore the most basic – yet most important – element of the writing craft, the original idea that is the essence of your story. We will examine how generating this original idea works for both fiction and non-fiction. We will then deep-dive into where original ideas come from and then progress to how to shape that kernel of an idea into novel, narrative non- fiction, or even a screenplay.
  3. 3. A Few Preliminaries…. • Three promises: – This will be a fast-paced 90 minutes – We’ll learn something…and we’ll have fun – You’ll have access to these slides…take notes…or not…. • Three assumptions: – You all are interested in nurturing your story idea – You would like to turn your idea into a novel or…. – You didn’t wake up last Tuesday morning with this notion • And a word about Power Point….
  4. 4. ….by way of background….
  5. 5. Let’s Talk About Writing….
  6. 6. ….and isn’t this the oldest profession?
  7. 7. “If you decide to become a professional writer, you must, broadly speaking, decide whether you wish to write for fame, for pleasure, or for money.” Ian Fleming How to Write a Thriller
  8. 8. Finding the Heart of Your Story: Nurturing Your Original Idea • Your Original Idea: The Spark That Starts the Process • Fanning the Flame: From a Spark to a Fire • Focusing Your Idea: Divergent to Convergent • Is It Just a Story – Or Something More? • Turing the Fire Into a Narrative • Taming the Beast and Writing Your Novel
  9. 9. Did You Bring Your Homework?
  10. 10. Your Original Idea: The Spark That Starts the Process
  11. 11. Your Original Idea: The Spark That Starts the Process • The coolest thing about writing! • Only you are the steward of your original idea • Can you state your idea in one sentence? • Ideas can be absolutely anything • Outward vs. inward focus • A few examples
  12. 12. “For me, I gotta write, and it’s the adventure of it that’s hooked me. As the writer, I can do it all. I get to be the National Security Advisor who recommends the action to the President who must commit the forces. I’m the senior officer who sends his men into action and who feels the pain if they don’t make it back. I’m the enemy and the defender; logistician and staff planner. But most of all, I’m a young man again, that fresh lieutenant who must lead his men into battle.” Dick Couch “So you Want to be a Writer”
  13. 13. Only You Are the Steward of Your Original Idea • It is your idea and your idea alone • You have to nurture it, don’t share it yet • It is the foundation of your book • Above all else, it is the spark of inspiration for you • Don’t do too much, let it germinate • Come up with another idea, is the first still the best?
  14. 14. Can You State Your Idea In One Sentence? • If you can’t do this, start over and find a new one • This one sentence ignites your creative focus • It is often the core of the pitch to sell your book • Remembering just one sentence keeps you focused
  15. 15. Ideas Can Be Absolutely Anything • A high concept • A theme • A plot • A character • A “what if” • A setting or scene
  16. 16. Outward vs. Inward Focus • A situation idea is outward focused • Your situation idea focuses on a plot and a problem • A character idea is inward focused • Your character idea focuses on character and intent • The key to success is to have your book do both
  17. 17. Ideas Can Be A High Concept • In a post-apocalyptic world, what if the top .1% is delineated by length of life rather than wealth? • Burners
  18. 18. Ideas Can Be A Theme • What is more important? Honor or loyalty? • Duty, Honor, Country
  19. 19. Ideas Can Be A Plot • On the same day, six different years, the Time Patrol must keep the shadow from changing our timeline. • Time Patrol
  20. 20. Ideas Can Be A Character • A housewife and female assassin must uncover the truth of the men in their lives in order to uncover their destiny. • Bodyguard of Lies
  21. 21. Ideas Can Be A “What If” • What if people going into the Witness Protection Program really disappear? • Cut Out
  22. 22. Ideas Can Be A Setting or Scene • An international treaty bans weapons in Antarctica: What if the U.S. put nuclear weapons there and lost track of them? • Eternity Base
  23. 23. Let’s look at three more examples
  24. 24. New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly & USA Today Best- Seller! What if a prince in a Middle Eastern country wanted to get the United States to attack another country so his country could later win a fight with that country?
  25. 25. New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly & USA Today Best- Seller! How does the commanding officer of a U.S. Navy ship keep the North Koreans from capturing her crew after they run aground on a small island after losing a gun battle with North Korean ships?
  26. 26. New this year from Braveship Books What if the most senior officers in the United States military are so dissatisfied with the President that they concoct a scheme to have the President direct a major military operation, and then have that operation fail in order to drive the President out of office?
  27. 27. If you forgot your homework – or the dog ate it – that’s okay… ….come up with any story idea and jot it down in two minutes
  28. 28. Fanning the Flame: From a Spark to a Fire
  29. 29. Fanning the Flame: From a Spark to a Fire • Is your idea different? • No? Now what? • Every idea has been done before • “It’s been done before” is the first hurdle • Check out the Internet Movie Database for log lines • Try Kipling
  30. 30. “Deconstructing” a Movie Log Line The subject of the sentence will describe (1) an imperfect but passionate and active protagonist. The verb will depict (2) the battle. And the direct object will describe (3) an insurmountable antagonist who tries to stop the protagonist from reaching (4) a physical goal on account of (5) the stakes, if the goal is not reached.
  31. 31. “Deconstructing” Your Idea: Putting It On Trial for It’s Life • Is there a plot? • Are there a protagonist and an antagonist? • Is the verb in your idea an active one? • Is there an inherent conflict that needs to be solved?
  32. 32. I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who. Rudyard Kipling The Elephant’s Child
  33. 33. Fanning the Flame: From a Spark to a Fire • Since every idea has been done before, now what? • Your idea turns into a story as you fan the flame • Fan the flame with Kipling’s help: – What? Plot – Who? Characters – Why? What’s at stake – Where and When? Setting – How? Beginning, Middle, and End • Your idea won’t change • You are going to do it differently
  34. 34. Focusing Your Idea: Divergent to Convergent
  35. 35. Focusing Your Idea: Divergent to Convergent • Spend a lot of time on divergent thinking – What if…. – A great time to bounce ideas off friends and colleagues • Save plenty of time for convergent thinking – These are not your children…you can favor one – Work what you picked…unless it starts to bore you
  36. 36. Dean Koontz On Generating New Story Ideas • Read! • Write! • Tickle the imagination and generate story ideas by playing around with exotic titles • Type out a bunch of narrative hooks and find one that is intriguing • Prime the idea pump by building up a couple of characters in enormous detail • Whatever you write, you must begin your novel by plunging the hero or heroine into terrible trouble
  37. 37. Is It Just a Story – Or Something More?
  38. 38. Is It Just a Story – Or Something More? • The king died and then the queen died. – A story • The king died and then the queen died of grief. – A plot • The queen died, and no one knew why, until it was discovered that it was through grief at the death of the king. – A mystery
  39. 39. Is It Just a Story – Or Something More? • What are you selling? • The “Intent” – The “why” behind the “what” – What do you want the reader to feel? – Is there a beginning, middle and end? – The payoff to the reader is the resolution • The “Shiver” – What excites you about your idea? – What will excite those you tell it to? – Is there emotion and passion? – Can your reader relate to your plot and your characters?
  40. 40. Turing the Fire Into a Narrative
  41. 41. Turing the Fire Into a Narrative • Before you start slamming together sentences: – Treatment – Narrative Outline • An enormous amount of work – why do it: – You have to convince yourself it’s a book – You may have to convince others – A surefire way to avoid writer’s block – You’re not chained to it – things happen
  42. 42. Let’s Deconstruct a Novel Treatment • Cover • Organization • Organizing Impulse and High Concept • The “Old” OpCenter Dies • The “New” OpCenter is Born • New Character Details – Preamble – Those who spend a great deal of time physically at OpCenter – Those who deal with crises overseas in each scenario – Those who deal with crises domestically in each scenario • OpCenter Plot and Scenario Plan – Preamble – Short Plot Synopsis • For us, this was 17,000+ words
  43. 43. Let’s Deconstruct a Narrative Outline • Cover • Front matter • Chapter summaries – Separate sections – One or two paragraphs per section • Epilogue • For us, this was 19,000+ words
  44. 44. Now Let’s Get to Work on That Homework and Create a Log Line!
  45. 45. You Can’t Be Serious?
  46. 46. Pair Off and Put on Your Coaching Hats 1. Read your story idea aloud to your partner 2. Partner, ask questions if what was said isn’t clear 3. Work with the reader to construct a log line 4. Give yourselves only three minutes to do this 5. Switch roles 6. Repeat steps one through four above
  47. 47. “Deconstructing” a Movie Log Line The subject of the sentence will describe (1) an imperfect but passionate and active protagonist. The verb will depict (2) the battle. And the direct object will describe (3) an insurmountable antagonist who tries to stop the protagonist from reaching (4) a physical goal on account of (5) the stakes, if the goal is not reached.
  48. 48. Reading Your Log Lines • Read the log line • Name your protagonist and antagonist • Coaches, jump in and sell it to the rest of us: – Intent – Sizzle
  49. 49. Taming the Beast and Writing Your Novel
  50. 50. Let’s talk about three of the most important ingredients in writing a successful thriller…
  51. 51. CharacterizationPlotting Action You must do all three well!
  52. 52. Plotting
  53. 53. “There are only two plots: The hero takes a journey and a stranger comes to town.” Timothy Spurgin “The Art of Reading” The Great Courses
  54. 54. The Classic Plot • The writer introduces a hero or heroine who has just been – or is about to be – plunged into terrible trouble • The hero or heroine attempts to solve his or her problem but only slips deeper into trouble • As they try to climb out of the hole they’re in, complications arise, each more terrible than the one before, until the situation could not become more hopeless, then one final unthinkable complication arises and makes matters worse. • At last, deeply affected and changed by his awful experiences and intolerable circumstances, the hero learns something about himself and the human condition. He then understands what he must do to get out of the dangerous situation in which he has wound up. He takes the necessary actions and either succeeds or fails, succeeding more often than not.
  55. 55. “You can distill anydrama – a Greek tragedy, a Shakespearian play, a modern novel, a TV drama or comedy, whatever – into a simple equation: ‘What do these guys want, why do they want it, and what’s keeping them from getting it?’” Bill Bleich Writing advice
  56. 56. Plots • Create a compelling plot • Write a grabber opening • Write a successful ending • Create a middle that keeps the reader involved
  57. 57. James Hall – Hit Lit • Gone with the Wind • Peyton Place • To Kill a Mockingbird • Valley of the Dolls • The Godfather • The Exorcist • Jaws • The Dead Zone • The Hunt for Red October • The Firm • The Bridges of Madison County • The Da Vinci Code
  58. 58. Let’s take a deep-dive into one well-known way to design or deconstruct a plot….
  59. 59. The Freytag Pyramid
  60. 60. Let’s Deconstruct This Using a Book We All Are Familiar With • Pride and Prejudice • Ulysses • War and Peace • Anna Karenina • Don Quixote • Little Women • The Wizard of Oz
  61. 61. The Wizard of Oz Exposition The exposition stage of the story sets the scene and introduces the characters. In The Wizard of Oz, the exposition is everything that happens from the beginning of the story to the tornado. We meet all the major characters. Dorothy runs away with Toto and meets Professor Marvel; and on her way back to the farm, Dorothy is overtaken by the storm.
  62. 62. The Wizard of Oz Inciting Incident Next comes the inciting action, which is the event that introduces conflict into the story. This is a bit tricky in The Wizard of Oz, because there are two elements in the story that might be called the conflict: • One is the conflict between Dorothy and Miss Gulch, because Miss Gulch wants Dorothy’s dog put to sleep. This is what causes Dorothy to run away from home, leading to the blow to the head she receives during the tornado. In this sense, we might consider Miss Gulch’s threat the inciting moment. • But this conflict becomes more complicated when the tornado transports Dorothy to the Land of Oz. There, Dorothy’s house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East and kills her, and the Wicked Witch of the West threatens to kill Dorothy in revenge.
  63. 63. The Wizard of Oz Rising Action The rising action is where the plot becomes more complicated and exciting, building tension. This includes Dorothy’s departure from Munchkinland, her meetings with the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, her arrival in Emerald City; her audience with the Wizard, and her capture by the witch: • During this part of the story, small obstacles are thrown in the path of Dorothy and her companions, and the two conflicts mentioned during the inciting incident are reemphasized. • The two conflicts are then explicitly linked when the Wizard tells Dorothy he’ll help her get back to Kansas if she brings him the witch’s broom. • Dorothy and her companions then face their most difficult challenge, with Dorothy getting carried away by the flying monkeys and her companions breaking into the witch’s castle to rescue her.
  64. 64. The Wizard of Oz Climax The climax is the most dramatic and exciting event in the story. In The Wizard of Oz, the climax comes when Dorothy and her friends are trapped in the witch’s castle, and Dorothy kills the witch by dousing her with a bucket of water. At that moment, much of the story’s tension is released because at least one of the conflicts, the one between Dorothy and the witch, is ended, and the plot begins its descent down the other side of the pyramid.
  65. 65. The Wizard of Oz Falling Action The next element is the falling action, which is made up of events that result directly from the moment of climax. The element after that is called the resolution, where the character’s conflict is resolved: • After Dorothy has killed the witch, she take the broomstick back to the Wizard. He solves the problems of Dorothy’s three companions, and agrees to take Dorothy back to Kansas himself. • This is the falling action: it shows the results of the death of the witch, but it doesn’t resolve Dorothy’s second conflict, the fact that she wants to go home to Kansas.
  66. 66. The Wizard of Oz Resolution The resolution comes when the Wizard accidentally takes off in his balloon without Dorothy, and Dorothy learns from Glinda the Good Witch that she could have taken herself back to Kansas at any time just by using the ruby slippers. At this point, Dorothy’s conflict is finally resolved. The threat from the witch is liquidated, and she realizes that she always had the power to go home.
  67. 67. The Wizard of Oz Dénouement The denouement is the ending of the story, when order is restored. At this point, we are often shown the characters one more time so we can see what happened to them. In The Wizard of Oz it’s the final scene in Dorothy’s bedroom, where she is reunited with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry and the now-familiar farmhands: • In some stories the denouement simply shows that order has been restored, and the world is now back to the way it was. But this isn’t usually the case, and it’s certainly not the case in The Wizard of Oz. • Dorothy is back home, but everything is not back to the way it was before she went to Oz. Dorothy’s understanding of herself and her place in the world have profoundly changed.
  68. 68. Characterization
  69. 69. “There are only two plots: The hero takes a journey and a stranger comes to town.” Timothy Spurgin “The Art of Reading” The Great Courses
  70. 70. “There are only two plots: The hero takes a journey and a stranger comes to town.” Timothy Spurgin “The Art of Reading” The Great Courses
  71. 71. Important Qualities for Heroes, Heroines and Strangers • Virtue • Competence • Courage • Likeability • Imperfections • Change: – Layers – Arcs
  72. 72. Character Motivations • Love • Curiosity • Self-preservation • Greed • Self-discovery • Duty • Revenge
  73. 73. Character Traits • Physical appearance • Movement and gestures • Past life • Religion • Sexuality • Vocation • Skills and talents • Fears • Dreams • Pleasures • Plans for the future • Sense of humor • Politics • Voice and speech
  74. 74. Presenting Character Traits Thoughtfully • How many major and minor characters to have • All major characters must have a biography • Develop a “job description” for each character • You will know what your characters will do • You are writing a novel – not a movie script – You have to get your characters from Point A to Point B – Your characters are not dead when they’re off the page • What is each character doing? – On stage – Off stage
  75. 75. Take a female character who is on her way to her high school reunion. She’s 50, attractive, divorced, and has had no contact with her graduating class since she left Iowa for Berkley in 1985. There was a guy she jilted when she went off to school. Develop her. • Physical: height, weight, hair color, best feature, worst feature, etc. • Occupation: attorney, doctor, college professor, executive, runs a dot.com startup, etc. • Personal: strengths, weaknesses, phobias, attitude toward men, attitude toward all others, etc. • Family: siblings, relationship with mom/dad, rivalries • Relationships: good/bad/difficult, marriage(s), children?
  76. 76. James Hall – Hit Lit • Gone with the Wind • Peyton Place • To Kill a Mockingbird • Valley of the Dolls • The Godfather • The Exorcist • Jaws • The Dead Zone • The Hunt for Red October • The Firm • The Bridges of Madison County • The Da Vinci Code
  77. 77. New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly & USA Today Best- Seller! Let’s color in one character, Anne Sullivan, Op-Center’s Deputy Director
  78. 78. “Anne Sullivan was a retired General Services Administration super grade who had made a career in Washington. She knew all about the government, including government contracting, hiring, firing, and funding, and how to sidestep the issues. These were things Williams never had to deal with, even during his multiple tours in Washington.”
  79. 79. “Unlike Williams, Sullivan came from money. Her father had fashioned a successful and lucrative career in finance with Bain Capital Ventures. Between that family money and her GSA retirement, she was looking forward to a comfortable life. She enjoyed the D.C. social and cultural scene and traveled often, primarily to Europe and especially to Ireland. That plan was interrupted when Williams recruited her— charmed her, really, she readily admitted—to be his deputy.”
  80. 80. New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly & USA Today Best- Seller! Let’s color in one character, Kate Bigelow, Commanding Officer, USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) Freedom-Class Littoral Combat Ship
  81. 81. “Kate Bigelow was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. She’d gone to the Academy for two reasons: to play lacrosse and to sing. Coming out of Montgomery Blair Prep in Silver Spring, Maryland, her two passions had been playing lacrosse and singing in her school glee club and church choir. She was an all- state midfielder and also had a strong voice. Her grades were good if not outstanding, but the Academy women’s lacrosse coach saw her play and liked what she saw. Lacrosse was a rough sport, even the woman’s game, and Kate Bigelow, while owning a technically sound game, was not above flattening an opposing player with a legal hit. She started for three years on the lacrosse team, beating Army two of those three years, and had sung in the Catholic Choir and the Naval Academy Glee Club.”
  82. 82. “Kate had graduated in the upper half of the bottom third of the Class of 2002. She’d never really considered a full career in the Navy as a seagoing officer, two things intervened that kept her from leaving the service. She found she liked U.S. Navy sailors and she had a knack for leading them. Secondly, she found command intoxicating. There was nothing like it on the outside, so she stayed in the Navy. She had previously commanded an MCM ship like Defender that now followed them out of Sasebo.”
  83. 83. New from Braveship Books Let’s color in one character, Lieutenant Laura Peters, Intelligence Officer, U.S. Southern Command
  84. 84. For Laura Peters, it was an opportunity for professional growth that might not come her way again. It was not surprising she loved what she was doing. The daughter and only child of a Navy chief petty officer, she had been the apple of her father's eye. Master Chief Donald Peters had risen through the ranks as far as he could, but he always wanted to be an officer. That goal, unfortunately, had eluded him. When it was clear his marriage would produce no sons, he regaled Laura with the opportunities that beckoned in the Navy. The master chief knew enough about how the Navy worked and what it looked for in its officers—and particularly its need to recruit more women officers—that he groomed his daughter throughout high school to make her a shoe-in for winning a Navy ROTC scholarship.
  85. 85. She had thrived at the University of Virginia, earning top grades, and lettering in cross-country, squash, and tennis. Sensing that the Navy was still not enlightened enough to fully accept women as equal partners commanding ships and aircraft squadrons, she opted for the intelligence field upon graduation, correctly surmising that it would provide a more level professional playing field and afford her the opportunity to prove herself and advance through the ranks. In her seven years since graduation she had sought out only the toughest assignments, usually registering firsts, breaking ground where female officers had not gone before.
  86. 86. Here’s a better example
  87. 87. When he finished packing, he walked out onto the third-floor porch of the barracks brushing the dust from his hands, a very neat and deceptively slim young man in the summer khakis that were still early morning fresh. James Jones (From Here to Eternity, opening sentence)
  88. 88. "Jones packs a hell of a lot into that first line. He tells you it's summer, he tells you it's morning, he tells you you're on an Army post with a soldier who's obviously leaving for someplace, and he gives you a thumbnail description of his hero. That's a good opening line." Ed McBain in Killer's Payoff
  89. 89. …plot?...characterization?...which is more important?
  90. 90. Plot or Characterization • You have to have plot to make the reader turn pages • People are the story and the whole story ???????????????????????????????????????????????? • Plot has the entertainment value to pull the reader along • The characters are the vehicle, the tools through which you tell your story • Readers want you to tell them a story • Dialogue brings your characters to life!
  91. 91. Action
  92. 92. “I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story.” Tom Clancy
  93. 93. What About Action? • Action evolves naturally from the plot • There is no “formula” for having action in your novel • As Clancy said, don’t overthink the action • That said, here are some things to consider: – Different kinds of novels lend themselves to more or less – Write all the action you can – then consider Goldilocks – If riveting, hold-your-breath action is anywhere – up front – Balance scene and summary to bound action scenes
  94. 94. Finding the Heart of Your Story: Your Original Idea • Your Original Idea: The Spark That Starts the Process • Fanning the Flame: From a Spark to a Fire • Focusing Your Idea: Divergent to Convergent • Is It Just a Story – Or Something More? • Turing the Fire Into a Narrative • Taming the Beast and Writing Your Novel
  95. 95. Resources • E.E. Forster Aspects of the Novel • Francine Prose Reading Like a Writer • Richard Curtis How To Be Your Own Literary Agent • James Hall Hit Lit • Dr. Linda Seger – The Art of Adaptation – Advanced Screenwriting • Robert Masello – Robert’s Rules of Writing – Writer Tells All • The Great Courses, especially, Jane Friedman How to Publish Your Book
  96. 96. A Word About Surveys: Comments Typically Come in Three Types • You rocked my world and my life is now changed forever for the better – I’m a completely new person • I’d rather have a root canal than have to sit through this again – and I think you should pay for it • I got something (a lot, a little) out of this workshop, but if the instructor does this again, he should: – Do more of…. – Do less of…. – Go faster…. – Go slower…. – ????
  97. 97. Slides and Resources Posted: http://www.georgegaldorisi.com/ For Southern California Writer’s Association Members Contact me via this website for: Treatment and Narrative Outline for Out of the Ashes Treatment and Narrative Outline for Into the Fire And if you’d like to receive my “Writing Tips” bi-weekly….
  98. 98. Backups
  99. 99. But That’s Not All! (Mainstream and Genre) • High Concept (Think in movie terms) – The Coronado Conspiracy – For Duty and Honor • Theme – The Coronado Conspiracy – For Duty and Honor

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