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Heart of the Story

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GGaldorisi LJWC

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Heart of the Story

  1. 1. Finding the Heart of Your Story: Your Original Idea George Galdorisi La Jolla Writer’s Conference October 25-27, 2019
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  4. 4. Finding the Heart of Your Story: Your Original Idea “This session will help attendees explore the most basic – yet most important – element of the writing craft, the original idea that is the essence of your story. We will first examine how generating this original idea works for both fiction and non- fiction. We will 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. Attendees will be provided with online access to all workshop material.”
  5. 5. A Few Preliminaries…. • Three promises: – This will be a fast-paced 50 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….
  6. 6. ….by way of background….
  7. 7. Let’s Talk About Writing….
  8. 8. ….and isn’t this the oldest profession?
  9. 9. “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
  10. 10. 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
  11. 11. Did You Bring Your Homework?
  12. 12. Finding the Heart of Your Story: Your Original Idea • Your Original Idea: 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
  13. 13. 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
  14. 14. “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”
  15. 15. 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?
  16. 16. 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
  17. 17. Ideas Can Be Absolutely Anything • A high concept • A theme • A plot • A character • A “what if” • A setting or scene
  18. 18. My fabulous story idea…. …in just one sentence?
  19. 19. 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
  20. 20. 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
  21. 21. Ideas Can Be A Theme • What is more important? Honor or loyalty? • Duty, Honor, Country
  22. 22. 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
  23. 23. 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
  24. 24. Ideas Can Be A What If • What if people going into the Witness Protection Program really disappear? • Cut Out
  25. 25. 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
  26. 26. Let’s look at four more examples
  27. 27. 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?
  28. 28. 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?
  29. 29. New in 2017 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?
  30. 30. New in 2018 from Braveship Books What if the Islamic Republic of Iran is killing Americans in terrorist attacks and other actions and the United States is not taking action? And what is a carrier strike group commander with a wide array of strike assets at his disposal decides to create and incident that has Iran’s fingerprints all over it and uses this as an excuse to extract his own vengeance on Iran? Can he be stopped?
  31. 31. 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
  32. 32. 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
  33. 33. “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.
  34. 34. “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?
  35. 35. 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
  36. 36. 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
  37. 37. 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
  38. 38. Focusing Your Idea: Divergent to Convergent • Spend a lot of time on divergent thinking • Save plenty of time for convergent thinking
  39. 39. 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
  40. 40. 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
  41. 41. 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
  42. 42. 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?
  43. 43. 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
  44. 44. 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
  45. 45. 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
  46. 46. 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
  47. 47. 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
  48. 48. Let’s talk about three of the most important ingredients in writing a successful thriller…
  49. 49. CharacterizationPlotting Action You must do all three well!
  50. 50. Plotting
  51. 51. “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
  52. 52. 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.
  53. 53. “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
  54. 54. 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
  55. 55. Let’s take a deep-dive into one well-known way to design or deconstruct a plot….
  56. 56. The Freytag Pyramid
  57. 57. 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
  58. 58. Characterization
  59. 59. “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
  60. 60. “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
  61. 61. 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
  62. 62. First book of the Rick Holden Thriller Series - from Braveship Books Let’s color in one character, Lieutenant Laura Peters, Intelligence Officer, U.S. Southern Command
  63. 63. 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.
  64. 64. 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.
  65. 65. Second book of the Rick Holden Thriller Series - from Braveship Books Let’s color in one character, Lieutenant Anne Claire O’Connor, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Pilot, USS Carl Vinson
  66. 66. Anne Claire O’Connor came by her bent for naval aviation naturally. The only child of now-retired Captain Jeff “Boxman” O’Connor, who had flown F-4 Phantoms in Vietnam and gone on to command his own carrier air wing, she had grown up in the midst of the lore of naval aviation. An honor student and varsity athlete at Coronado High School in southern California, she had won an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy and had excelled there as a swimmer. Tall, slim and attractive, at five foot nine and a lithe 130 pounds, Anne O’Connor turned heads. She knew her good looks didn’t help her blend as a naval aviator—there were fewer than two dozen women among Carl Vinson’s over two hundred pilots and naval flight officers. Unlike everything else she did in her life, she failed in her mission to not stand out.
  67. 67. O’Connor was also worried. Not of what would happen in the air. No, she was worried because of Bingo. Commander Craig “Bingo” Reynolds was the Stingers executive officer and he was not the kinder, gentler type. As a brand-new lieutenant, O’Connor had absorbed more than a fair share of Bingo’s wrath. She didn’t know if he was trying to make it hard on her because she was one of only four women officers in the squadron. She was terrified because he would be in the Stingers’ Ready Room and would see her come in late. O’Connor looked out on the waters of the Arabian Gulf and into the perpetual haze that hung in the skies. As she got ready to taxi her aircraft back to its original position on deck, she wondered what part she would play in any conflict. One thing she did know—she’d be ready.
  68. 68. Here’s a better example
  69. 69. 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)
  70. 70. "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
  71. 71. Whew…that’s a lot of information…I’m drowning Can you distill it down into everyday terms? What do you mean by plot- and character- focused?
  72. 72. Action
  73. 73. “I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story.” Tom Clancy
  74. 74. 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
  75. 75. 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
  76. 76. 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
  77. 77. 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 next year, he should: – Do more of…. – Do less of…. – Go faster…. – Go slower…. – ????
  78. 78. Slides and Resources Posted: http://www.georgegaldorisi.com/ For 2019 La Jolla Writer’s Conference Attendees Contact me via this website for: Treatment and Narrative Outline for Out of the Ashes Treatment and Narrative Outline for Into the Fire
  79. 79. Questions? 85

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