Because Size Matters: McKee’s Four Tips on Writing a Big Story

Writing the Big StoryYou know how certain types of feedback get under your skin like road rash, so that months or years later the grit is still working its way to the surface? Well, eons ago, as she contemplated a novel I’d set in my province, a critique partner sent me metaphorically skidding on the asphalt in a pair of Daisy Dukes.

The comment she dropped  which I found so distressing? “I think this would appeal to readers outside of Canada.” (Meaning, as I took it, that my beloved story wasn’t sufficiently big or universal to warrant a larger audience.)*

If you’ve had similar concerns about your fiction, today’s post might help. It’s a summary of four techniques advocated by Robert McKee in his seminar on Story which, when employed individually or collectively, promise to give your fiction a sense of expansiveness. While you’ve likely encountered the first three in one venue or another, it’s the fourth which lit up my neurons and where I’ll focus the bulk of this article. (If you’ve missed my former McKee Morsels, you can read them here and here.)

1. Take the Story Conflict Wide

In this circumstance, what is the worst thing that could happen to my character?

Writers are encouraged to use the above question when brainstorming progressive complications for their story. If attempting to go wide, then, while the story might begin at the level of personal or interpersonal  conflict, the “worst” ripples outward to affect the larger world, including societies and institutions, possibly even nations or worlds.

2. Take the Story Conflict Deep


If going wide is like casting a stone in a pond, going deep is like firing up a medical laser. The conflict remains intense and focused upon a small cast of characters. They emerge singed and sporting extra holes, permanently changed, even if they earn a happy ending.

To see the contrast between #1 and #2,  let’s look at two stories about a divorcing couple. (Spoiler alert!)

If going wide, you might think of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, where in order to marry Anne Boleyn, Henry breaks centuries of tradition, severs ties with the Catholic Church and forms the Church of England.

If going deep, you’d write something closer to The War of the Roses, where a divorcing couple fights over who shall retain ownership of the marital home. As they repeatedly choose revenge over forgiveness and selfishness over generosity, the conflict escalates until they pay with their lives.

3. Incorporate Symbols and Imagery Which Allow the Specific to Feel Archetypal or Universal

I have to share the example McKee used here, because it’s a) educational and b) made me laugh at how obvious it is in retrospect, yet I’d missed it while watching the movie.

While the story of The Terminator is one of an ordinary waitress pitted against a machine come to destroy her, the accumulated charge of the imagery makes it feel larger in scope. We see a frightened Sarah Connor running through the labyrinthine streets of LA, a monster in hot pursuit. When she finally defeats the monster in the factory — a hell-like setting at the heart of the maze — she transforms from a working class woman into a serene, Madonna-like figure. And the initials of the child she carries, who will become the savior of mankind? None other than “JC”.

4. Hone the Principles of Antagonism

If character is unearthed and tempered during conflict, it behooves the writer to ensure they have adequate coal for the forge and a working bellows.

McKee divides the forces of antagonism into four categories: the personal (internal conflict, or the battles which rage between our ears), the interpersonal (conflict with other people), the physical (time, nature, bodily limitations, disease, etc.), and the institutional.

If you take all the summative forces of antagonism in the categories above and match them up against your protagonist as they exist at the beginning of the story, it should be clear that your character is an underdog. (You want the challenge to be daunting but not impossible. Why would you ask a reader to invest their time and money in a character who is certain to lose?)

To ensure you’ve given ample power and nuance to the forces of antagonism, identify the core value which is examined in the story and ensure you’ve included all its expressions, including the negation of the negation.

I appreciate that’s a dense statement, so let’s unpack it and then explain it with examples.

Consider a story to be like a thesis, where you’re out to prove the truthfulness of a particular viewpoint. (For more on this, you might visit Lisa Cron’s recent post.) Meanwhile, the forces of antagonism are like an examination committee out to prove the opposite. For example:

  • If you believe good things happen to those who wait, they’re out to prove that evil things happen to those who wait.
  • If you believe truthfulness will be rewarded, they’re arguing that truthfulness will be punished. (Or lies will be rewarded.)
  • A final pairing: Love makes us strong beyond imagining/love makes us vulnerable suckers.

Begin by identifying the core values involved in the dueling viewpoints.

In the three examples above, I’d suggest the positive value and the contradictory value (direct opposite) would be good/evil; truth/lies; trust/paranoia. Having done that, you’ll set out to ensure your story contains an example of both values.

You’ll also include the contrary value (a state of compromise between the positive and contradictory values) and the negation of the negation.

What is the negation of the negation? It’s potent and you arrive at it in one of two ways:

  • by disguising the contradictory value as the positive value; or
  • by turning the contradictory inward.

Let’s look at some examples.

If your story is about the battle between truth and lies:

The contrary value would be a half-truth or a white lie. (A lie told to do good.)

And the negation of the negation? Self-deception. Why is self-deception worse than a lie? Because when you choose to live with dishonesty, you must understand what truth is in order to live its opposite. In self-deception, you lack the ability to distinguish between truth and falsehood. It’s the difference between losing your moral compass and choosing to go against it.

At some point in your story, then, if you want to have fully realized forces of antagonism, you’d include examples of truth, lies, white lies or half-truths, and self-deception.

What if your story is about the positive value of peace and the contradictory value of war?  

What is the contrary value? I’d say skirmishes. So in a family drama, that might look like a couple afflicted with bickering, second-guessing, petty battles. (This forms the bulk of The War of the Roses.)

In a war story, the contrary value might look like overly rigid interrogations at the border, punitive tariffs, or being subject to periodic raids.

And the negation of the negation? War disguised as peace. In the family drama, that could be a smiling sabotage, like when Kathleen Turner’s character feeds Michael Douglas a pâté made from his dog. In the war story, a Trojan horse or the existence of a double agent.

Make sense?

To give the forces of antagonism a fully texturized rendering like this, McKee says you don’t have to input these values in any particular order. It’s just important that they’re all present with the story at some point in time.

Unboxeders, if you aim to write fiction with an expansive feel, do these techniques make sense? To date, have you stumbled across them or used them with purpose? I’m no Robert McKee — don’t even have his eyebrows — but if something’s not clear in the above, the mistakes are mine. Let me know and I’ll do my best to explain.

*As a diligent CP, she was absolutely right to voice her concern and it wouldn’t have stuck with me for so long if a part of me didn’t believe she was right.

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About Jan O'Hara

Jan O'Hara left her writing dreams behind for years to practice family medicine, but has found her way back to the world of fiction. Currently the voice of the Unpublished Writer here at Writer Unboxed, she hopes one day soon to become unqualified for the position.

Comments

  1. says

    Jan, I’m not familiar with McKee’s work, but these techniques make sense to me. There’s so much to digest here, but I especially like #4-honing the principles of antagonism in our work. This concept is not readily understood, but is so important. To “identify the core value which is examined in your story and ensure you’ve included all its expressions in your work” is a valuable take-away. The lessons in #4 bear re-reading and internalizing. If we can “hone the principles of antagonism” in our work by expressing the core values of the story in powerful ways, it will give new life and meaning to the conflicts that drive our stories.
    CG Blake´s last blog post ..Effective Beginnings: The Secret Ingredients

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    • says

      If #4 made sense to you and seems powerful, I’m delighted. I first read about the negation of the negation when I read McKee years ago, but it only made sense after the seminar. In retrospect, I can see that some of the stories which resonate with me the most have contained that element.

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  2. says

    Thanks for the post. Indeed these ideas mske sense to me. I particularly like the idea of symbolism. The Terminator example was great because I’d never thought of it like that. Some of my favorite stiries I’ve written ended up having interesting symbolism and core contradictory values. Only I came to see it in revisions. I think I’d like to do a better job of consciously adding that. So this post is quite helpful.
    RJ Crayton´s last blog post ..There is no stigma to success; self publish if you wish

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    • says

      Wasn’t that funny about the symbolism in The Terminator? “JC” got me in particular.

      I agree that many of these techniques would be easier to use during revisions, but then I’m a pantster. ;)

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  3. says

    Deep for a Monday morning, Jan. I had to chew on the principles of antagonism for a while, especially the contrary and negation of negation. These would seem, to me, as stepping stones from one extreme of the core value to the other. If war vs. peace is our core value, would you then use the contrary as a bridge from peace to war, or is it all happening simultaneously? I suppose if I look for it in my reading, it will make more sense. I do see the negation of negation as a useful struggle within a protagonist or antagonist. It almost seems the story would be incomplete without that internal struggle.

    Okay, you’ve given me much to think about. I’ll re-read the post after another cup of coffee.
    Ron Estrada´s last blog post ..My YA Journey – Week 3

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    • says

      Ron, if you look at David Corbett’s post at 11:17, he’s done a great job of breaking it down further about how you could embody each value within an antagonistic force. That’s not how McKee presented it, but it makes sense to me. The determination of the value being expressed at the time, then, would depend upon which force was predominant.

      McKee does it differently. He looks at each scene within the novel as to what it’s saying about the core value. (Truth/lies, justice/injustice, etc.) Depending upon what the story has to say, then, you’ll see a big story moving between all these values at the level of scene.

      For example, it’s been a while since I saw War of the Roses, but from what I recall, the movie begins on the positive as they fall in love. It moves into the contrary as they begin the pettiness and sniping, deepens into the contradiction of outright war, into the negation of the negation, as she feeds him his dog. Then there’s a moment at the end where it might even tip back into the positive, but it comes too late.

      Make sense?

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  4. says

    I’m with Ron, this is a rocky row to hoe for a Monday moanin’. But I’ve read it twice now, and I’m on my second cuppa. It’s starting to seep into my Resistant brain. And I’m starting to better comprehend your post, too. (See what I did there? The caffeine is doing the seeping. ;-)

    I’m grateful for the example on negation of the negation, as the protagonist in the story I’m working on now is all about the self-deception. I can clearly see the various levels of conflict created by his choices. Let the trampling of the moral compass ensue!

    Thanks for going wide and deep here, Boss!
    Vaughn Roycroft´s last blog post ..Written To Death – Writer Unboxed Redirect

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    • says

      I’m writing this on the following Tuesday morning. Hope the caffeine did its job and you were able to see how this applies to your story, or shrug it off if it isn’t useful to you.

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  5. says

    Hi Jan. Thank you for your thoughtful post!

    I’ll be the negation of Ron and Vaughn’s sentiments and say your post was perfect for a Monday morning! I have been traveling the last week and, aside from being eager to return home to my work, the trip gave me plenty of time to think about my stories. The result: after nearly 2 years, I am putting aside my present novel and using the skills I’ve picked up to start fresh.

    So, not only did I love reading your post because I opened my computer eager to get back in working mode, I also loved it because you highlight some very useful tips.

    I am currently reading Robert McKee’s books, Story, but I haven’t encountered anything like what you outlined. Especially that bit on thinking of your story as a thesis with a core value. I have worked on themes before, but never thought of how to play those themes out. Your examples hit home. Presently, I’m story-boarding and very free to explore my new novel, so guess what I’ll be doing after I turn the computer off?
    John Robin´s last blog post ..Words with John

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    • says

      John, you’ll find a chapter or two on core values further into McKee’s story. The opposing thesis bit I pulled in from another source, though darn if I can remember where.

      Enjoy your storyboarding and new project.

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  6. says

    To learn to be simple is to learn to be free. Please be careful of the over-analytical of the artifice of writing. Storytelling is an art and a craft. Yes, but it is not math. Sometimes a leaf just falls where it falls. And it cannot be prescribed. It is not all that complicated. McKee, as usual for me, overdoes it here times ten. Sorry to not love the guy.

    Is it okay not to like McKee? Probably not. But I don’t like him much beyond his chapter headings.

    I did not come to this distrust lightly. Two other authors (each of whom have 20-plus novels traditionally pub’d) and I met weekly for a year as we went through STORY. Page by page by page by page, what?, by page by page, there’s more?, by page by page by …

    There ARE good things to take away from McKee. (Key words: take away). But If a writer honestly does all this stuff, all this analysis, if a writer moves into the house of McKee (instead of the house of her/his own heart/head/life/voice) while trying to compose and write a novel, I don’t know how she/he cannot become blatheringly batshit crazy by midbook. Discussing it all, however, is certainly good for hours and hours of seminar talks.

    The best use I was able to come up with for STORY, after careful and painstaking study and discussion, was to use it to hold open a window so I could get fresh air into the room. I mean, ask yourself what Mark Twain or Kurt Vonnegut would do. Or any other author you like.

    Over analysis is the death of both art and craft. Sometimes writing a story involves putting a guy and a tiger in a boat and seeing what happens. It’s not seeing how many plates you can keep spinning at the top of poles at one time before your legs give out running back and forth and +-, -+, +-, -+, +-ing yourself and your story to death. (Beware: reviewers tend to notice the endless +-,-+ sequence quite easily… and so do readers. )

    I apologize to all those who see otherwise. However you see composing a story is right for you. It is your vision, after all. And please remember that. YOUR vision. Not McKee’s.

    The above little rant, however, is right for me. I’d advise all writers to look closely at McKee, check out Maass (he’s good!), wonder how much of Blake Snyder might apply to a novel (all… but you need to do more?). At some point, you must come up with your own conclusions. And that’s the house you want to dwell in… because, hey, it’s where you live. Visit McKee. Stay for the weekend. But don’t move in.

    My conclusion was to kick McKee to the curb (mixed metaphor) AFTER reading him closely. What is core to his analysis I find is better and more simply and directly put by Maass and Snyder. And maybe check out Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path by Pickard. Or any of the other books in the left-hand column here.

    Sadly for me, I don’t believe antagonism has principles. My antagonism with the principles of McKee is not personal, interpersonal, physical, nor institutional. At best, it might be occupational (but more in the sense that how I choose to occupy my time is elsewhere). I write. Which I clearly need to go do now….

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  7. says

    Jan, please don’t take my dislike of McKee to include you or anyone else who can find the kick they need for their own work by reading McKee. I think using McKee to come to an understanding of what YOU are doing as a writer is admirable. I just meant to say Bob doesn’t work for me.

    Also, I misunderstand this (although, I loved the Daisy Dukes analogy!):

    >>The comment she dropped which I found so distressing? “I think this would appeal to readers outside of Canada.” (Meaning, as I took it, that my beloved story wasn’t sufficiently big or universal to warrant a larger audience.)*>>

    Ask your faithful CP (I’m sure she indicated a little bit more along the way and I’m sure you know how her critique was going), but the quote that ‘this’ would appeal to readers outside of Canada suggest to me that people outside your setting would be interested, maybe even fascinated, in knowing about life in your province. No? Well, I would be. :)

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    • says

      I’ve never been a big McKee fan either. For every nugget there’s three pages of bloviation. But there are nuggets.

      Analysis and intuition are not opposites. Pianists play scales endlessly. Athletes have film work. They do this so they can perform intuitively what once seemed impossible.

      You study your craft until it becomes a seamless part of your technique. I do things out of habit now I barely understood ten years ago.

      Can you overdo it? Reading writing books is a well-established form of writer’s block.

      But every now and then these things can spark an idea you can use. If they do that, the book was worth more than a door stop. Or window stop.

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      • says

        That’s my philosophy too, David. Learning is never a waste, though I’ve encountered my share of door-stoppers, many of which were heartily recommended by writing friends. As with fiction, personal taste and learning style explains the discrepancy.

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    • says

      No worries, Randy. I’ve hit exactly that point of exasperation during many a blog post or book, some of them even written by the people for whom we have mutual admiration. ;)

      If it doesn’t work for you, ignore it. If it’s the wrong timing for you, ignore it. And while you’re ignoring it, by all means, write! (I hope we’re all writing anyway.)

      As for my CP, her tone was one of skepticism–hence the emphasis on “think”. But I didn’t change my novel’s locale. Pre-McKee, I’d gone wide, deep, and hit the negation of the negation in a scene which still makes me proud. What I might not have done is do any of these elements soon enough, but that I can fix and will, because I love that story and won’t abandon it.

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  8. says

    This is a great analysis of McKee’s HOW of one memorable phrase I learned from Donald Maass, “…conflict on every page.” Isn’t it fascinating that as writers we are striving to get better and better at something we usually strive to avoid in our personal life? Conflict, it’s what’s for dinner…

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    • says

      “Isn’t it fascinating that as writers we are striving to get better and better at something we usually strive to avoid in our personal life?”

      I know, right?

      And yes, I’d agree Don’s been excellent at lighting a fire under the tinder of “why”. ;)

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  9. says

    Jan:

    Don’t listen to the Monday Mewlers, this is a great post. (Though, as a white male, I was offended by your title — Joke! Joke Alert! I was joking!)

    John Truby talks about Four-Corner Conflict, where characters present other forms of conflict for the hero beyond the major conflict with the opponent. And it’s always best to embody conflict in other characters.

    Your Contrary Value can be embodied in a character who, with all the best intentions in the world (or the most corrupt intentions), seeks a compromise position between the antagonists. Obviously, as the previous sentence suggests, there can be more than one such character, motivated by different intentions.

    Similarly with the negation of the negation: A character who sees the opponent’s point of view. This can sometime be considered a false ally/opponent, someone who seems to be on the hero’s side but who, for whatever reason(s), thinks he’s helping the hero by suggesting not just compromise but going over to the other side, as it were. (I call these characters counterweight characters, because whether they know it or not they’re exhibiting a countering force against the hero’s movement toward his true goal.)

    Last, I disagree that we can’t root for a character we know will fail. The entire genres of noir and black comedy are populated by just such characters. And the moral argument known as Pathos, where the little guy is up against the overwhelming power of The System, but makes his feeble effort to fight back, and somehow almost pulls it off, is one of the greatest traditions in storytelling. It’s not a big draw these days because everyone’s addicted to the false sun of happy endings, but it’s appeal is the empathy we feel for someone who refuses to just accept his chains, even as we recognize the impossibility of ever breaking them.

    Thanks for the wake-up. Let’s call this Meaty Monday. Yeah!!

    David

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    • says

      I LOVE the idea of embodying each value within another character, David. That’s not at all how McKee presents it, but I can see how you’d arrive at the same place, depending upon which character’s viewpoint dominated at any one time. I’ll need to think this through some story examples, but it feels right. The only thing it would miss, I suppose, is the negation of the negation when derived from the core value turned inward–might require only that the protagonist succumb to internal conflict and follow the path of self-destruction.

      As for the issue of doomed characters, can you give an example of a story where it’s obvious they’ll lose but we invest in them, anyway? As I cast about for examples, I can only think of movies like Butch and the Sundance Kid or Thelma and Louise where the lose feels like a technicality. (The core value being freedom, and they retain it through an ironic win.)

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  10. says

    Size Doesn’t Matter. The thing is, David, your story doesn’t have to be taken wide or even deep and can still be a successful book or movie. THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE, WAIT UNTIL DARK, REAR WINDOW, THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY, any Perry Mason title you can think of. It’s your choice as a writer. There’s a pudding for every holiday.

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    • says

      Um, Okay. Did I say every story needs to go big?

      Personally, I prefer deep to wide, and I love the smaller story that strikes hard and lingers. That’s mostly what I write.

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      • says

        David, I sure didn’t mean to put words in your mouth at all. Sorry! Mostly I think writers become their own best McKee by, you know, writing. There is no prototype for everyone. Just as there is no book that every reader likes. That’s all I really meant to say. Promise not to talk no more. :)

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  11. says

    Thanks for this post. I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to study these techniques and throw them out there for us to chew on. Still pondering “the forces of antagonism are like an examination committee out to prove the opposite.” I’m finding this to be a great way to jumpstart my writing morning. So again, thanks.

    And geez, this is the second time in about two weeks I’ve had someone recommend McKee. So I’m off to my corner bookstore to grab my own copy.

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    • says

      Kate, Story is a dense book that some find overwhelming. I think it’s worth the read, obviously, but if you ever get a chance to hear McKee in person, I’d heartily recommend it. He’s a gifted teacher.

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  12. says

    I love the principles of antagonism–it’s the geekiest of writerly geekness, and so very useful. It always helps me sort things out when I’m lost or stuck or missing something.

    And as a matter of fact, I really needed it this morning, so thanks especially.
    Barbara O’Neal´s last blog post ..Kindly Shepherd’s Pie

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  13. says

    Hehe, as the kids say.

    Read your version of McKee with pleasure. I’ve never read the original, but it’s obvious more than one writer about writing has dug in the same briar patch.

    I’m an extreme Dramatica plotter (gives you whatever levels of width and depth you want), and definitely working on what Albert Zuckerman calls, in a similar vein, the Blockbuster Novel.

    Big Books have these features in common – and not all writers, and certainly not all books, want to work that hard or that long on ONE book. Margaret Mitchell spent 10 years of her life on Gone With the Wind. Ken Follett has spent huge chunks on big novels. Many people tackle epic fantasy or history novels.

    But some ideas need the size, and you have to learn to manage it, or you will get hopelessly lost in your notes and the process.

    I say pick a system that works for you – and learn to use all the bells and whistles – if that’s what you want to write. I do.

    Time will tell if we succeed.

    Alicia
    Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt´s last blog post ..Added PRIDE’S CHILDREN – Chapter 14, Scene 2

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    • says

      “I say pick a system that works for you – and learn to use all the bells and whistles – if that’s what you want to write.”

      Amen!

      As for Dramatica, I’ve never heard of it, but at a superficial glance, the central premise is akin to the thesis paradigm. Interesting! (BTW, I don’t believe the thesis paradigm belongs to McKee. I read it somewhere and it resonated, but I can’t give proper credit.)

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  14. says

    Hi, folks. I’ve got a bit of a situation on the home front which is tying me up today. Nothing serious but it’ll prevent me from replying in the depth you deserve. I’ll be back later. Promise!

    In the meantime, I’m loving the comments and feedback. Thanks for your thoughts.

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  15. says

    Excellent post and perfectly timed for where I’m at with my current manuscript. My brain hurts, but I applied the exercise to my storyline and have a much clearer understanding of what I need my characters to do in this next part. Your examples are very helpful. Thanks for sharing.
    Simone´s last blog post ..How I launched my second book

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  16. says

    News from the story factory! Thought I’d get your input, Jan, since I said I was going to put your highlighted ideas to use:

    My story is about a seamstress whose exceptional skill is far more than it seems. Without getting into too much plot, in essence her growth embodies the journey of someone who desires to do what’s right. Since she starts out doubting herself, I’ve introduced her brother as a strong supporting character – a man who stands for what he believes is right, without exception. (In the end he will abandon his values when he realizes what he’s thought is right is in fact a lie.)

    So, the core value is doing what’s right. Negate that: doing what’s wrong. In my story, this means exploring characters who delight in doing what’s wrong. But negate that and you have characters who delight in doing what’s wrong thinking it’s right. My protagonist, then, is going to be forced into the last place she wants to be: outside the comfort of her quiet life as a seamstress and into the court of the king she hates, where conspiracy and artifice abounds. There, she must battle against her own fear of once more doing the wrong thing – that’s right, she has a dark past, and this, in turn, is the source of why she fights so fiercely to do what’s right. Her story is a journey, and by the end of it doing what’s right means reclaiming what she once though was wrong, it means stepping out with courage, taking down enemies and their “noble” facades; it means realizing the enemy is not necessarily one who does wrong or right, but rather one who lies to oneself.

    Anyway, I’m sharing that while it’s fresh. Please, WU friend, chime in! My story is one day old and thus it’s very malleable, so input now is helpful for me as I continue to explore.
    John Robin´s last blog post ..The blog that John wrote

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    • says

      So sticking to the scope of this post, John. it sounds to me like you have all four values being expressed at some point in the story. The only thing I see differently comes from this statement: “…it means stepping out with courage, taking down enemies and their “noble” facades; it means realizing the enemy is not necessarily one who does wrong or right, but rather one who lies to oneself.”

      Assuming I’ve understood your story, then, to me, that’s a story which ultimately focuses on the positive value of truth. You’ve definitely got both examples of the negation of the negation, don’t you? Lies masquerading as truth (the aristocracy’s facade), and self-deception.

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      • says

        Thank you, Jan! I suppose I’ve inadvertently put in two values. I’ll have to ruminate on that. Nonetheless, thank you for the much-needed inspiration – yesterday was a growth spurt. Here’s to more!
        John Robin´s last blog post ..The blog that John wrote

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        • says

          Though he mostly boiled his examples down to a single value, McKee did say you could have more than one, so no worries. Many romances, for instance, would be about truth and love, probably achieve negation of the negation for both values simultaneously.

          Whatever you do, if you’re writing hot, keep going. You can come back and geek out later, if you get stuck. ;)

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  17. says

    Hi Jan,
    Fantastic post! Two points especially resonated with me. First, your honesty about your critique partner’s comment. When something reaches a visceral level (be it pleasant or unpleasant), a chord of truth’s been touched. Thanks for sharing and for digging deeper. Ultimately, that helps us all.

    The other point touches on the negation of the negation. On a manuscript I recently turned in, my eye-opening moment came when I realized my two main characters shared the same value. The difference, and a major source of conflict, came in how they defined it.

    This last point seems like it should’ve been so obvious to me, yet I had to be in the words a lot before the revelation came.

    Thanks again!
    Gina
    Gina Conkle´s last blog post ..What Alarms Men About Conversation? (reblogged -Embracing Romance.com)

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    • says

      “…my eye-opening moment came when I realized my two main characters shared the same value. The difference, and a major source of conflict, came in how they defined it.”

      I love that, Gina. Sounds intriguing.

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  18. says

    Thank you for an excellent ‘unpacking’ of what is needed. Especially useful for newer writers. And yes, sometimes the story just writes itself and too many ‘rules’ can interfere with our creativity. So for those of us that just write, this is invaluable in the next step of
    our re-writing.
    Sherry Marshall´s last blog post ..Don’t take Love for Granted

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    • says

      I don’t think I could apply this before I finished a first draft, either, Sherry. I’m not a believer in rules, either! But if it works for you, awesome.

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  19. says

    One thing I love about writing advice is that there’s always more, always something to spark new knowledge. Good advice like this can take concepts we already understand (explore multiple sides to your central concept) and teach us to look at them in a new way (using antagonism to pinpoint what sides to explore). This was a fantastic post. Thank you so much for sharing with us!
    Annie Neugebauer´s last blog post ..Good News Abounds

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  20. Rachel Thompson says

    Good conceptual thoughts, Jan. I just read a book on craft, below, which helps one place these story concepts perfectly. I don’t know McKee’s work but I’ve read dozens of books on craft. McKee was obviously a big influence for you. Here are the two books that most helped me. I think you and your readers would benefit from them greatly. Debra Dixon’s ( POD at Griffin Press) Goal Motivation and Conflict… The other, the best thing I’ve ever read on structure ever is Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. Dig in and prosper.

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    • says

      Rachel, I’m familiar with both those book and agree they’re great resources. Dixon’s GMC, in particular, is foundational reading. Thanks for sharing.

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