On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Friday, November 30, 2012


Subplots are a powerful writer's tool to enlarge and delightfully complicate a story. Many writers simply add subplots as events or characters occur to them

during writing. While there is nothing wrong with this method, I'd like to suggest that deliberately designing subplots to perform specific story functions may be a

stronger method for writing.

The functions of subplots and the incorporation of these into a story often seems mysterious. To understand how subplots work, let's take a step back to look at

the entire story, then drill down to examine subplots.

The story can be divided into two general components:

Outer Story: the action events that occur. The outer story can be defined as the Story Goal (answered by a yes or no at the end of the story), Stakes (defining why

reaching this story goal is so important for the protagonist), and Obstacles (both internal and external).

Inner Story: the emotional changes and realizations that are made by one or more characters. The main component of the inner story is the Definition of the

protagonist's Hidden Need (an emotional lack, such as fear of bonding or reluctance to lead) that affects others, and then the protagonist's Solution to his Hidden


The story contains multiple narratives, event descriptions, and plot directions. Each of these component strands in the story can be categorized into one or more

of the following five classifications:

Strand 1. Main Outer Story: the events describing the protagonist's pursuit of his Story Goal.

Strand 2. Main Inner Story: The events demonstrating the protagonist's Hidden Need, and then his solution of this.

Strand 3. Antagonist Story: the events from the perspective of the obstacles, usually the main antagonist but can be anything that stands in the way of the

protagonist's reaching his goal.

Strand 4. Gift at Climax: the events that bring about a believable problem solution. For example, if a car will need to be available in the middle of the desert for

our hero to make a getaway, this sequence will describe how that car gets there.

Strand 5. Protagonist's Mirror: events experienced by another character with the same fundamental problem as the protagonist, say, control of an object or an

overriding temptation to pride. This Mirror character answers the problem in a usually bad way that serves as a caution to the reader about how the protagonist

might also potentially screw up if he's not careful.


Story scenes can fall into several classifications at once: for example, an event about a mirror character interacting with our hero may both push the story

forward (#1) and establish the mirror's fundamental problem (#5).

Subplots may be considered any events or story lines that fall into strands #2, #3, #4, and/or #5. These story strands often have a story shape, although can

also be isolated scenes establishing a neccessary story component.

What does a story shape look like? There are many answers to this, but one I like very much is from John Truby's book, THE ANATOMY OF STORY.

Stage 1: Weakness, Problem, and Need

Your story character has a Weakness within himself of which he’s not aware at the beginning of the story. The Weakness is psychological (it hurts the character)

and moral (it hurts others). Your story character has a story Problem stemming from this weakness. Finally, he has a Need to solve this weakness.

For example, in THE WIZARD OF OZ, Dorothy's Weakness is that she is unhappy living at home (psychological), and wants to leave (moral; exemplified by her

running away in the first act). Dorothy's Problem is that she runs away from home, causing her to be lost in the tornado and delivered to the land of Oz. Dorothy's

Need is that she must appreciate living at home with her family.

Stage 2: Desire

Your story character has an outer desire: the story's goal. For example, in THE WIZARD OF OZ Dorothy wants to leave Oz to go home.

Stage 3: Opponent

The opponent is the character who is competing with the story character for the same goal. For example, both Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West want to

determine whether she is able to talk to the Wizard of Oz or not, and ultimately whether she can leave Oz or not.

Stage 4: Plan

Your story main character must have at least a vague idea, or maybe a more detailed plan, of how he plans to fight the opponent to gain his desire. For example,

Dorothy keeps making her way towards Oz. She also collects a motley group of friends who help protect her from the witch.

Stage 5: Battle

Your story character and opponent battle for supremacy . This is a punch-counterpunch series of actions. For example, Dorothy is kidnapped by the Witch's

flying monkeys, then fights her in the Witch's castle over the broomstick. Dorothy douses the witch with water, and the witch melts.

Stage 6: Self-Revelation

After a great deal of painful struggle, your story character realizes and solves his need that you identified in Stage 1. Demonstrate how this need has been solved. For example, after the Wizard of Oz flies off in his balloon, Dorothy realizes she had the answer to getting home with her all the time. She closes her eyes, repeats "There's no place like home," and clicks her ruby slippers together.

Stage 7: New Equilibrium

Your story character has solved his need, or else lost his opportunity to solve it. Desire (Stage 2) is gone so that he simply will continue to live his life at a

higher (or lower) level than before. For example, Dorothy wakes and discovers Oz was a dream, but is content and happy at home with Auntie Em.


To deliberately incorporate subplots, examine the roles each story component plays in your story.

Start by determining the story arc of your hero's hidden need (strand #2). You will also need to determine how you will solve it. Solution of hidden need typically

falls in the third quarter after the midpoint, and is best done in three stages: hidden need is demonstrated, hidden need is solved, hidden need is shown to be

solved. The Hidden Need being solved is also often demonstrated at the climax of the story. For example, in the film U571 the main character's hidden need is

that he is unable to take command because he views himself as a big brother. The hidden need is first demonstrated when he steps back from a task, solved

when someone tells him he shouldn't step back, and shown to be solved when the main character is placed in another situation that requires leadership and he

fulfills it. Then at the climax, another situation is shown in which the character must lead by sacrificing one of his men.

Next, diagram your outer story (strand #1). Since much of the outer story consists of a series of punch/counterpunch with your main antagonist and other

obstacles, list these events. Now look at the story from the antagonist/obstacle point of view, and see if you can add a subplot here that weaves in nicely (strand


While examining the events in the outer story, determine if you have to set any of these up (strand #4). This strand's events doen't usually require a story arc,

merely a physically series of actions to set up a believable solution.

Finally, write down your main character's basic, fundamental emotional problem. Once you have this you can then invent another character with an identical

story problem, even if the outer manifestation isn't the same. For example, if your main character's hidden need is that he's afraid to lead, your mirror character

might be arrogant and overeager to take command -- the fundamental problem will be an inability to lead well (strand #5). Strand #5 subplots are often the most

interesting and involved to incorporate, and profoundly reinforce your story theme. They generally require the most deliberate development of story arc/story

structure as explained above.


Weaving subplots into your story can be a complex endeavor, but greatly enhance all story elements by both contrasts and reinforcements. Once you have your main story line worked out, take some time to contemplate additional story lines and events you may wish to incorporate. Remember that scenes can double to have more than one function. Play with these ideas to create something truly special in your writing.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Hero's Mirror

In writing your story, what is your protagonist most afraid of as he pursues the story goal? A useful technique to make his fear larger and more tangible to the reader or viewer is to use a mirror.

The mirror character often acts as an antagonist (not necessarily the primary antagonist) in the story to *block* the hero from reaching his goal, meaning that the hero has constant run-ins with the mirror. But who is this character?

The mirror character is, or used to be, very similar to the protagonist, and faced the same dilemma or moral choice or fear that the hero is facing now. The difference: the mirror made the WRONG choice, and therefore shows what life will be like to the hero if he isn't able to handle this problem correctly.

Two very powerful mirrors are used by JRR Tolkien in his genius work The Lord of the Ring. As a very quick explanation in case you're not familiar with the series, the stories center around "The One Ring" as a representation of absolute power, forged by the ultimate evil being called Sauron. A number of creatures, both good and bad, pursue the ring. The ring has fallen into the hands of a humble hobbit named Frodo who must carry it through dangerous lands to destroy it where it had been created, the fires of Mount Doom. Frodo is assisted by many including Samwise Gamgee and Strider.

Mirror #1: Aragorn and Isildur:

Aragorn (Strider) is the rightful heir of Gondor. He is afraid to claim the kingship because he is afraid to be corrupted by the power that it represents, and his fear is mirrored through his ancestor Isildur. Isildur was seduced by the One Ring before he could destroy it, and set into play a traumatic series of events that lasted many generations.

Mirror #2: Frodo and Smeagol (Gollum):

Frodo is the ringbearer until he can destroy it. He is afraid of the strong seductive power of the ring: seductive because it promises ultimate individual power to the bearer. His fear is mirrored through Smeagol (Gollum), a ruined hobbit once very similar to Frodo, who long ago found the ring and hoarded it inside the mountains. After losing the ring, Smeagol (Gollum) acts nothing so much as a drug addict trying to regain his prize, alternately helping and harming Frodo and Sam as they inexorably travel towards Mount Doom. He ultimately plots (and almost succeeds) to kill Frodo to regain the ring.

These mirrors work together in the story: Aragorn must regain the power although he is afraid he will fail, like Isildur. Frodo must continue to carry the One Ring and eventually destroy it, although he is afraid he will not be able to withstand the Ring's temptations, like Smeagol (Gollum).

While designing your story, consider whether you might be able to use a mirror. This powerful technique can add strong resonance and demonstrate your theme in a clear, tangible way.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Watch the Backstory

I once had it explained to me that backstory is like meeting someone at a casual event where you have to chitchat. If a person comes up to you and starts telling you his life story: I was born in Arizona, my mom was a supervisor in a nursing home that was shut down after twenty-one years because of the suspicious deaths of five patients, I'm researching laws for importing Chinese kumquats and kumquats are often categorized as citrus and are grown on evergreen shrubs or short trees that produce 80 to 100 fruits each year, you'd probably start eyeing the door. Similarly, in a story the reader wants to WATCH the character and make his own judgments, not be told a lot of stuff that he's not sure what parts are relevant. Why the heck should he even care? He doesn't know the characters!

Back story can be defined as events that happened before the story begins. Unless handled carefully, back story will kill your reader’s interest in your story by pulling him away from the forward action.

The back story is important for you the author to understand the events currently taking place in your story, but often not necessary for the reader. Before you explain the past origins of a current circumstance, ask yourself if you need to do this for the reader to enjoy the story. Be tough -- more often than not you won’t.

Back story is incorporated into the story as a flashback, through narrative, or through dialogue.

1. Flashback. A flashback can be defined as a scene depicting a previous event. Since the flashback breaks the story action to insert something for which the reader has not been acclimated, it is difficult to handle well. I generally don’t recommend using flashbacks.

2. Narrative. Narrative is easier to make invisible but describing back story, even in an engaging fashion, breaks away from the forward action and thus should be done with caution if at all.

3. Dialogue. Dialogue is a notorious place to dump back story. Beware the "As you know, Bob" syndrome in which one character explains things of which the second character is already aware, for example past history of an event. A better way to handle background information is if the second character doesn’t know it -- then the reader can learn at the same time. For a great discussion on adding background information via dialogue, see Snyder’s discussion of "Pope in the Pool" in his stellar book Save the Cat!

Good writers know to make understanding the back story essential to the action of the present story. If a character must make a decision, right now, that depends on his knowledge of history, then the reader along with the character will breathlessly anticipate learning the information.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Essence of Your Story

A common problem that occurs when writing a book or screenplay is that it loses focus. There are interesting subplots, and interesting side journeys, and after awhile it's hard to know what to pay attention to. Yes, ever since Tolkien published Lord of the Rings I know many writers want to do this sort of complex world-building, but frankly I haven't seen too many of these epics actually being published. Heck, even Peter Jackson found he had to cut A LOT of Tolkien's material in order to get a comprehensible story line -- and his movie masterpiece trilogy is still 9 + hours long.

It's worse if you're not even trying to branch your story out in 32,853,02 directions.

I'd like to propose a few easy questions for you to answer about your story, that should be able to focus you in to get your story started with minimal trauma. If you can answer these questions, you've got the spine of your story. For every event or character that you want to add, simply ask yourself if it's consistent with what you've already laid out here. If it is, go for it. If not, get rid of it. This includes things like subplots: the subplot should either be adding a component that is necessary for the story usually at the finish, or following a mirror character where the character wants the same thing as the protagonist, but answers the question in a different way. Hmm, I should put up an article on subplots... will do this soon.

Ready? Here are a few questions to help you get at the essence of your story:

1. Who is your MAIN CHARACTER?

2. What external problem does your main character want to solve in the story? This is his OUTER GOAL. For example, he may want to win the big football game, or make a million dollars, or find a girlfriend.

3. Who or what is the chief OBSTACLE to your protagonist's achieving his outer goal?

4. What horrible things will happen if the protagonist cannot achieve his outer goal? This is the STAKES of your story.

5. What is your main character's HIDDEN NEED? This is a lack within your main character that he must solve before he can be happy. For example, he may need to forgive someone, or he may need to become courageous, or he may need to learn not to be selfish.

6. In one sentence, describe what your story is about.

These questions may be easy, or may take some thought. If you're having trouble, simply list, say, 10 or 20 stupid answers to the question. Then just pick one of these answers and see if you can fit it in; if you can't, choose another. Free-write your ideas so that you can tell a quick outline of your story in a paragraph or so. Figure out the captivating kernel of your story, whether character, plot twist, or something else.

Once you've got the basic direction of your story, you'll find it's much easier to start planning or writing. Go for it.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Step By Step Writing

"I had the most exciting day yesterday. Steven proposed!"

"Ooh," Maggie squealed. "Tell me all about it."

Cathy stuck out her hand, showing Maggie a flashing ring. "Well, I woke up when my alarm went off at 6:30, like it always does," she said. "I pushed back my favorite green fluffy quilt from childhood that my Aunt Mary repaired and surprised me with last summer. The quilt always makes me smile because it reminds me of our family's Christmas celebrations at my childhood home in Minnesota." Cathy's brown eyes went dreamy for a moment. Then she continued.

"I got up and looked out the window to see a blue Ford drive past the red brick apartment building across the street where my best friend Judith lives. The car honked as it went by. The sun was in my eyes so I reached over to pull the shades closed, and then I put on my fluffy orange slippers and walked into the bathroom. The pink tile looked a little grey, and I wondered if I made the right choice with this color when I retiled the bathroom two months ago."

The rock on Cathy's finger caught the sun and glistened. "I turned on the shower and listened to the water run as I brushed my teeth. I studied my face in the mirror. My brown eyes seemed sad. When the water was warm I got into the shower and turned around in the water to get my long brown hair wet. The water felt like warm spikes on my skin. Then I noticed on the shower shelf that there was a new bottle of shampoo on the shelf. 'Oh yes,' I thought, 'I remember changing that yesterday.' It was a new brand and I wanted to try it..."


This conversation seems silly, doesn't it? Maggie doesn't want to hear this irrelevant chitter; she wants to get to the meat of Steven's proposal.

Although it's hard to imagine a conversation like this happening in real life, unfortunately many writers litter their chapters with this type of inconsequential detail that pumps word count but doesn't go anywhere. While this vignette DOES give us a feel for Cathy's life -- she's living in a city environment, far from home, and she has either time, money or both to retile the bathroom -- we're left wondering: Do we care?

Step-by-step writing (SBS), in which the writer describes every step, no matter how trivial, on the way to complete an action, or every detail on the way to describe the setting, is an easy trap for you to fall into. You are imagining the scene vividly in your head, and simply writing what you see. The problem with this type of writing, if not edited and boiled down, is that it's, frankly, boring.

In fiction, unlike in life, the words must always push ahead without dead space. You, the writer, must incorporate many pieces of information -- story, character flaws, descriptions, and even morals from which the reader can learn a lesson -- in a way that is compelling and doesn't feel forced.

 In the example above, the first three sentences establish the promise of an interesting story, and Maggie is poised to learn more until Cathy goes into SBS mode. Cathy would have done better by cutting to the chase. Any more of this and your reader will close your book faster than you can say "page 2."

You avoid SBS by incorporating a forward direction at all times to your story action. Don't include extraneous details; only put in what is necessary to understand the story. For example, no one cares that a character is opening a bottle of water. However, if your character has only a few seconds to sneak a sip and calm her cough before giving a speech, the question of whether she can get that bottle open in time becomes pressing.


There are at least four good techniques to create tension and thereby avoid SBS:

Technique #1: Intrigue

New unexpected plot twists or provocative information add valuable sweet spots throughout your text. These prick the reader's curiosity and cause her to want to know more.

Intrigue is also a fabulous technique with which to start your story. Since your reader is not yet bonded to any of your characters or events (unless this is a continuation of a series), intrigue will draw in the reader at the start without her needing to understand your story's background.

Here are some examples of possible opening lines:

He hadn't thought dying would be like this.

Sadie didn't know it at the time, but Brandon's entering through the side window, rather than the door, would change her life.

The pin cushion was from the nineteenth century, delicate brocade caught up in a flirty twist at the top.

These lines all have in common the attribute of raising questions or curiosity in the reader.

Depending on how strong is your hook, after the opening line you may even be able to switch topic for several paragraphs before returning to the opening issue. The reader remains riveted through the routine because the opening line has made her curious about the situation or what will happen.

Technique #2: Write in Deep POV

Point of View (POV) is a challenging topic that takes more time than I can cover in this short article. Suffice it to say that many writers write in objective POV without realizing it.

Two examples:

(Objective): Jenny and Paul sat across from each other at the table in the corner of the ice cream parlor. She was nervous because Paul was so charming, and she didn't want to say anything wrong. Jenny twirled the long silver spoon in her hand. After a moment she noticed her chocolate ice cream was melting, so she neatly took a large bite of the icy treat. It suddenly triggered a transient trigeminal spasm, and she grimaced.

(Deep): At the corner table of the Double Dip Jenny caught Paul's wink, and she felt those familiar butterflies. Darn it, why did she keep falling apart like this? She dug her spoon into her ice cream so Paul wouldn't see that he unnerved her -- and shuddered a moment after the ice cream went down. She waited for the headache to pass, trying not to notice that Paul was staring at her.

The objective POV example describes what a camera would describe, and uses words at a distance from the characters. We are told Jenny is nervous instead of being shown actions that would allow us to conclude this. This passage uses objective words that Jenny would never say herself while living this scene: "took a large bite." and "icy treat."

The deep POV example focuses on Jenny's reaction to Paul, rather than the mechanics of eating ice cream. The passage uses Jenny's direct thoughts: "familiar butterflies" and "Darn it." The rest of the description notices what Jenny is noticing. For example, unless she's a medical student she would never think, "Gee, that ice cream just triggered a trigeminal spasm, so I'm grimacing."

Two excellent instructional books for POV are: Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card, and Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View by Jill Nelson.

Technique #3: Ticking Clock

A ticking clock is a great way to increase tension. Your character must do something, or avoid something, before a fast-approaching deadline arrives.

Technique #4: Set a Story Goal

This is a basic trick for creating story conflict. In order to be engaged, your reader needs to know for what she will be watching, and this is best done by stating a clear story goal before the scene unfolds.

The goal statement must be a clear sentence that can be answered with a "yes" or "no." Here are some examples of a story goal that can be the first line of your new chapter:

Susan had five minutes to find the necklace before Richard returned to the room.

Timmy didn't know if he'd be able to convince his mom that he'd just seen his dad's ghost -- but he'd have to try.

Claire gasped as she saw William was no longer in the car. He must have run away. She had to find him before his medicine ran out.

Follow your goal statement by going into the conflict phase of the scene, where your viewpoint character deals with a series of internal and external obstacles.

Finish with an effective ending: either a YES BUT or a NO AND FURTHERMORE. You can read more about designing a scene in Jack Bickham's Scene and Structure and my own book, Amy Deardon's The Story Template.


SBS writing is a helpful stage for the writer, because it teaches you to notice detail rather than skipping through a scene too quickly. However, adding the forward arrow helps your writing become compelling and fascinating. Try it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Addendum: Sending Your Manuscript to Yourself

Jan kindly wrote to me after yesterday's post to let me know that sending your manuscript to yourself through snail mail is NOT an effective way to prove your copyright in a court of law. If you wish to create a legal record of ownership, you can electronically register your work (in the USA) at http://www.copyright.gov. The cost is $35. According to a commenter (Gary Townshende in http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2012/09/07/intellectual-property/) you can register multiple works under one submission for a single fee.

Some countries may accept a postmark as a legal copyright registration, but please investigate this topic if you are considering doing this.

MANY THANKS to Jan for letting me know about this! Jan also gave links to several articles on this topic that you might find interesting:




Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How to Protect Your Work from Theft

Many writers seeking publication worry that an enterprising agent or publishing assistant may steal their work. To be sure this is a wrenching situation to imagine. With the growth of the internet and electronic files, if someone's objective is to steal your words it is laughably easy.

If you are currently sending out submissions and the image of your book being stolen keeps you up at night, I recommend that you immediately print out a hard copy of your manuscript and snail-mail it to yourself. Don't open the sealed envelope. In a court of law the postmark will prove beyond a doubt that you are the originator of this body of work.

Now that you feel better, I'd like to tell you why you shouldn't worry about manuscript theft.

Point One is that the moment your ideas are translated into a tangible format, they are automatically copyrighted to you. You don't have to worry about hiring a lawyer or finding a registration service. Any court of law recognizes this copy write.

Point Two, and this is most certainly true, your manuscript is not valuable enough to steal. The process of getting a newbie manuscript accepted by a publisher, then editing, packaging, and marketing it, is mountainous no matter how good the book is. If one manuscript doesn't work, there are plenty more available. Trust me, no one wants the aggravation.

I remember I used to be semi-paranoid about people reading my manuscripts -- especially writers who knew how to submit manuscripts, and those who might recognize what gold was before their eyes. I found on the rebound that these same writers gave priceless feedback that honed my writing skills.

I have grown to recognize that nothing I write, or ever will write, is deathless prose. There are few people who will produce this level of work. My advice to those who worry about theft, is relax.

Even with my published works, I have cheerfully given away thousands of books, and feel that I'm ahead in the bargain. My best thought is that I may have helped people, or at least challenged them. The next thought is that my name has become better known, and this helps build a good reputation for further works.

John Kremer, a noted self-publisher, often poses this tongue-in-cheek question: should you err on the side of theft or obscurity? 

Why are you writing? Is it to make money? Or to get your words out there? I recommend that you let go your words, let them fly and touch people. Ideas change people; give your words a chance to reach others.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Study with the Story Template Part Two

The "hidden need" of the protagonist is an emotional lack that he solves during the course of the story. I first heard this term from Angela Hunt and Nancy Rue at a writing conference where I attended their first "NANGIE" instructional class in 2005.

The hidden need not only hurts the protagonist, but most ideally it also hurts those around him or her. Some examples of this hidden need might be someone who is afraid to confront others, or who loves money more than family, or who is unconsciously arrogant.

The hidden need triplet describes 3 specific stages in which this flaw is actually solved in your protagonist:

1. Demonstrating the hidden need
2. Solving the hidden need
3. Demonstrating that the hidden need is solved

These stages normally occur in the second half of act two, right after the midpoint, and often form a "mini-story" to give a break from the excitement and story ramifications of the midpoint.

Let me use the movie U571 to demonstrate. It's a movie made in 2000 about a submarine crew in WW2 that wants to capture a Nazi Enigma machine (story goal). If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it! It's very exciting and beautifully done.

Stage One: Demonstrating the Hidden Need
Tyler is the second in command who likes to be a "big brother" figure to those under him, but is afraid to lead. Right after the midpoint disaster in which the captain is killed, he finds himself in command of a crippled ship. The men are worried. Tyler admits to them that he doesn't know what they're going to do. This scene starts at 55.1% of the whole.

Stage Two: Solving the Hidden Need
The chief petty officer takes Tyler aside and privately tells him to never, ever say to the crew again that he doesn't know what to do. The captain, the chief petty officer says, is an awesome figure, and must always present a strong presence in order to give courage and inspire loyalty and confidence in his men. Tyler listens carefully. This scene starts at 58.9% of the whole.

Stage Three: Hidden Need is Demonstrated to be Solved
The Americans surface and see a small Nazi plane flying overhead. Since they're on a German Uboat, Tyler tells his sailors to wave as if they are also Germans. One of Tyler's sailors orders the one manning the guns to strafe the Nazi plane, but Tyler orders him not to. There is hesitation but the gunner holds his fire, the sailors wave, and the Nazi plane seems to be fooled as he flies past. Then Tyler turns and punches out the sailor. "This isn't a democracy!" he growls. This scene starts at 60.5% of the whole.

Near the Darkest Moment when the Hidden Need is again Demonstrated
Close to the darkest moment, Tyler needs a functional torpedo tube, but it's underwater and for anyone to fix it will be dangerous and likely fatal. Tyler orders one of his crew to go in there and FIX it, darn it, and do it now! This scene starts at 93.2% of the whole.


I could show you this same pattern in story after story after story. I included the percentages not to be rigid and say your hidden need triplet MUST occur here, but instead to give you an idea of the natural reliability of its placement. My student Emily was amazed to verify how closely different points of a story (not just hidden need triplet) tended to fall. This is another subject, however.

The hidden need triplet is a specific sequence of actions that solves the hidden need. Just having a protagonist with a hidden need suddenly acting better at the darkest moment is not the same, and will not have the same resonant effects.

When designing or editing your story, make sure that your protagonist has some sort of flaw that needs to be healed. Then, demonstrate clearly exactly how it is healed. By doing this your story will carry a strong emotional punch.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Study with the Story Template Part One

One of my high-school students, Emily, did a school project using the story template algorithm. Her goal was to examine classic and non-classic stories to find any differences in the story structure. She decided to use just movies since the analysis is quicker, although still not trivial: for each story she broke it into a list of scenes, timed each scene, then calculated percentages of whole for duration and placement. Her definition of a classic was a film that had been adapted from a novel, had one or more sequels, and/or was recognized as the epitome of its genre. Furthermore, the original novel or film must have been made at least 25 years ago (1985 or earlier), since it takes at least about a generation to be recognized as a classic. Non-classics were films in that same time period that did not fit the "classic" criteria. She tried to choose films from a variety of genres.

She chose well-known movies:

Charlotte's Web
Prince Caspian
Tuck Everlasting
High Noon
Raiders of the Lost Ark

Heaven Can Wait
War Games

To analyze these movies, Emily studied the story template and then broke it down into 16 specific testable points. After doing her research, and contrary to all of my expectations, she found a real difference in structure between the classics and non-classics.

15 of the 16 points were present in all the stories. However, 1 of the points was present in 6 out of 7 classics, but in none of the non-classics. This blew me away. When she did a Fisher's exact t-test for binary data on the presence or absence of this one variable in identifying a classic, in a two-tailed test (which is harder to reach significance), she had a p value of 0.03, considered significant. (The p value means that if you did this test 100 times, in 3 out of 100 trials you would expect to obtain these results by chance. Scientific standards typically accept a p < 0.05 to be considered significant, meaning that the scientist is probably measuring a real phenomenon). This result indicates the presence of this one story point is highly correlated to having a "classic" whereas its absence means it is linked to being a non-classic.

These aren't clean statistics since the original project design looked for 16 variables. The likelihood with this many variables is that one might reach a level of significance with one of the variables just by chance. However, 1) none of the other points changed -- they were all present in both classics and non-classics; and 2) this point makes a lot of sense to me that it might distinguish the lasting stories from the throwaways. At the minimum, it seems to be important to remember to include this point. It sure can't hurt.

I'm sure you're wondering what this variable is? Well, this blog entry is already long, so I'm going to save that till Friday. In the meantime, I'd love to hear what you think it might be. Happy writing.

Friday, November 2, 2012


Hello Friends:

I live on the East Coast of the USA. If you see this entry, you'll know that our power and internet is still out, and I am not able to post. I will be back as soon as possible, hopefully by early next week. In the meantime, happy writing and best wishes.



PS You'll be happy to hear I'm keeping up with NANO by using my Neo2. I often use the Neo2 instead of the computer for writing even if the power's on... it's such a cool little machine!