I had my August novel all planned, well thought out, everything ready to go. Two stories would be told side by side, chapter by chapter, with one showing the back story of one main character, Adam, and the other following the main course of action of another character, H, with the two characters meeting half way through.
But I was missing a crucial plot point! The back story thread, following Adam, sort of faded out a bit at the end. I was struggling to find a way to make the end of that thread tie up with the end of the main thread. It tied up perfectly with the beginning and middle of the main thread, but not the end. It was like the beginning of the main thread was the last act of the back story thread.
So I decided to split the story completely into two parts. Instead of writing one novel, I’d write two novellas. Of course, I tackled the Adam’s story first. Meanwhile, life paused for a bit while I split up with my girlfriend… but that’s another story.
Anyway, yesterday I read a great post on Larry Brooks’ Story Fix blog called The Single Most Powerful Writing Tool Youâ€™ll Ever See That Fits On One Page. It’s just a series of questions, and if you can answer them all about your story, you should be about ready to start writing.
The “follow the classic story structure” advice is always good, and Larry is a story architecture nazi, from what I’ve read of his blog. The structures and guidelines he gives aren’t new to me, my previous writing follows them quite closely, and I guess I have a quite intuitive understanding of what a story needs and when.
But this set of questions was exactly what I needed!
All I did was answer the questions one by one, and suddenly what I needed to do in the Adam story became crystal clear. It was an “Of course! How could it be any other way?” kind of moment.
So, the two threads of the story can now be re-entwined. Combat (working title) is a single project once more! I’ll start page one tomorrow. I’ll go for 1500 words a day, and aim for Adam’s thread completed before the end of August.
And the set of questions? You can read them on Larry’s blog, or check them out below. I even filled in the answers! Not for my novel, because I wouldn’t want to spoil it; as an experiment I deconstructed The Matrix.
What is the conceptual hook/appeal of your story? You can’t trust reality/we are all batteries.
What is the theme(s) of your story? Among other ideas; guns are fucking cool.
How does your story open? Is there an immediate hook? A chase across the rooftops and leather clad kickassery.
* what is the hero doing in their life before the first plot point? Office worker.
* what stakes are established prior to the first plot point? Has a safe existence.
* what is your characterâ€™s backstory? Spends his nights hacking.
* what inner demons show up here that will come to bear on the hero later in the story? Scared of heights. A bit lonely too.
* what is foreshadowed prior to the first plot point? Mouth sealed shut in the “Reality isn’t what I thought” kind of way.
What is the first plot point in your story? Swallows the pill. Everything changes.
* is it located properly within the story sequence? Yes.
* how does it change the heroâ€™s agenda going forward? Finds out reality is different than he thought.
* what is the nature of the heroâ€™s new need/quest? Needs to find out if he is who Morpheus hopes.
* what is at stake relative to meeting that need? Freeing of humans, or so he is told.
* what opposes the hero in meeting that need? Tracked by agents who want to find Morpheus.
* what does the antagonistic force have at stake? Wants to get into Zion.
* why will the reader empathize with the hero at this point? Yes, we’re all office workers who want to believe there is more meaning in the world.
* how does the hero respond to the antagonistic force? Learns fucking kung fu.
What is the mid-point contextual shift/twist in your story? Cypher’s meeting with Agent Smith.
* how does it part the curtain of superior knowledgeâ€¦? We now know there is a double agent, and Morpheus is in danger.
* â€¦ for the hero?â€¦ and/or, for the reader? Neo doesn’t know. We do.
* how does this shift the context of the story? Morpheus is now the main prize for the agents, but we know Neo will be trouble for them.
* how does this pump up dramatic tension and pace? In so many good ways.
How does your hero begin to successfully attack their need/quest? Guns. Lots of guns.
* how does the antagonistic force respond to this attack? Agents start jumping into any human avatar.
* how do the heroâ€™s inner demons come to bear on this attack? Jumps in feet first. Also he trusts Trinity, knows she loves him.
What is the all-is-lost lull just before the second plot point? A talk with Morpheus about how humans are a virus.
What is the second plot point in your story? Neo says “There is no spoon” and shoots the top of the lift.
* how does this change or affect the heroâ€™s proactive role? He’s worked out how to control the matrix.
How is your hero the primary catalyst for the successful resolution of the central problem or issue in this story? From here on in it is his control of the matrix that lets him defeat the Agents.
* how does it meet the heroâ€™s need and fulfill the quest? He has found his identity, saved Morpheus, and got the agents on the run. Agents running, not humans.
* how does the hero demonstrate the conquering of inner demons? He is certainly no longer afraid of heights.
* how are the stakes of the story paid off? Zion is safe. Neo gets the girl too.
* what will be the readerâ€™s emotional experience as the story concludes? Exuberance, and a nervousness about the reality of the universe.