A Story is a Promise: Good Things to Know Before Writing a Novel, Screenplay or Play
By Bill Johnson

Step One. Complete this sentence: My story is about…

For Rocky, he starts with this: Rocky is a story about gaining self-respect.

That fits his definition of a basic human need because we all want to respect ourselves.

  • Step Two: Complete this sentence: The movement of my story toward the resolution of its promise can be described as…

Rocky is a story about someone discovering within himself the courage to overcome insurmountable obstacles.

  • Step Three: Complete this sentence: The fulfillment of my story is…

Example: The fulfillment of Rocky is that Rocky’s courage to overcome the odds proves he  is somebody to himself and to the world.
  • Step Four: Reduce the previous three sentences to one sentence beginning with: The premise of my story is…

Example: The courage to persevere in the face of overwhelming obstacles leads to self-respect.

Notice the verb: Leads. This verb implies motion. Notice, too, how specific this statement is. This is no “love conquers all” type of statement. You have a solid destination.


Don't you just hate to write loglines? Don't know what that is? That’s movie parlance for that one sentence that puts everything you slaved, sweated, and bled over with all its subtleties and reversals  into the proverbial nutshell, also known as a one-line pitch in novel parlance. If you’re like me and you'd rather write an entire novel while sitting in a cactus patch than wrestle with that one sentence, there is hope and STC! is there to show you how to put it together. The ingredients that apply to novels are:

STC! offers an example that I'm sure you'll recognize.
A cop comes to LA to visit his estranged wife and her office is taken over by terrorists. Who doesn't recognize Die Hard in that description? (If you don't, you really need to watch a movie or two.)

Then comes a compelling mental picture
STC! uses Blind Date for this example:  She's the perfect woman--until she has a drink.

A Killer Title
Like Legally Blonde


One of the reasons is because, if you're anything like me, you sometimes confuse the elements. And it's easy to do. If you'd asked me before I read this what my heroine's goal was in the story I channeled, I'd have said, "to have a family of her own" but that's actually her motivation.
GMC provides a formula to encompass the three elements. That formula comes down to 3 words: want, because, but.

The little girl wants ice cream because all the other children at her birthday party are having ice cream but she's lactose intolerant.

And there you have it. Goal, motivation, and conflict. Interestingly enough, this formula comes in handy when you need to pitch your story.
Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell

Thursday Writing Quotes ~ Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut's rules
  1.  Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things-reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages

Write Your Novel From the Middle - A New Way to Approach Story

Write Your Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between by James Scott Bell

This book is a lesson in not judging a book's worth by its page count (93, if you're interested). In fact, it could have been shorter because the stuff I'm excited about (aka the stuff I haven't seen elsewhere) is all in the first 60% of the book.

I think it helps if you're already somewhat familiar with story structure before you read this because story structure is like a lesson on anatomy, but Bell's idea is like microsurgery on the spine. Writing from the middle builds on the midpoint.(If you're not familiar with story structure, read Save the Cat! poste haste.) Once you understand the importance of the midpoint turning point, come back and read this book.

So we're all on the same page now, right?

Bell has a way of looking at the midpoint I've never seen before. What's so revolutionary for me is that he says the midpoint isn't a scene at all. It's a moment. The midpoint moment. What Bell calls the "look in the mirror" moment. This is the moment that tells you what the story is really about.

This is what he says about this moment:

...the character looks at himself. He takes stock of where he is in the conflict and--depending on the type of story--has either of two basic thoughts. In a character-driven story, he looks at himself and wonders what kind of person he is. What is he becoming? If he continues the fight of Act II, how will he be different? ... The second type of look is more for plot driven fiction. It's where the character looks at himself and considers the odds against him. At this point the forces seem so vast that there is virtually no way to go on and not face certain death."

This death aspect is an important part of midpoint moment, but it doesn't have to be physical death.

There are three kinds of death: physical, professional, psychological. One or more of these must be present in your novel if it's going to work at the optimal level.

And bless him, he uses romance to illustrate this point:

Psychological death is the key to all romances, isn't it? If the two lovers don't get together, they will each miss out on their "soul mate." Their lives will be incurably damaged.

So this is all well and good, but how does it help with the story? Bell says that knowing your mirror moment helps you build the psychology for the first half of the story. Knowing the mirror moment also helps you identify what changes (or in the case of tragic stories, what doesn't change) at the end of the story.

One of the examples he uses to illustrate this point is the movie Lethal Weapon. Riggs' pre-mirror moment psychology is that of a suicidal loner, a point illustrated in the scene where Murtagh realizes his new partner isn't bucking for a psycho pension. He really is psycho. Riggs even shows him the hollow point bullet he's planning to use to blow his brains out.

The scene that proves a real change has occurred  in the character, which of course has to be an actual scene, is at the end of the movie when Riggs shows up on Christmas eve with the bow tied around the bullet. He's changed. He no longer needs the bullet.

So what's the mirror moment that defines these before and after pictures? It occurs in the middle of the movie (naturally) the first time Riggs comes to dinner at Murtagh's house. This is a pivotal scene where Riggs is welcomed by the family and he sees there's another way to live. The mirror moment? Just before he leaves, he tells Murtagh about a shot he made as a sniper in Viet Nam, observing that killing was the only thing he was ever good at. It's a quiet moment. Maybe the only one in this action packed movie, but it illustrates Bell's point. The character is looking at himself and saying this is who I've been. The unspoken question is: who will he become?

When you know that question, you know what your story is really about.

It's a simple concept, but like many simple things, it's not necessarily easy to put into practice. Bell provides a number of other examples as well as tips to help you get to the meat of the mirror moment that are specific to pantsers as well as plotters, so I've only scratched the surface. I still can't believe he did it in so few pages.

This is going to revolutionize the way I approach a new story.

Thursday Writing Quote ~ Jennifer Crusie

If a sex scene is so generic that it can be dropped into any book, it’s death for your story because it’s going to flatten character. ~ Jennifer Crusie