Getting to the Story

I am developing an online course called Getting to the Story to begin in February 2015. This blog post features a sample from the coursework. If interested in taking the class, contact me HERE.

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According to NaNoWriMo stats, about 23% of their participants finished their 50,000 words by the end of Nov. If you were one of them, congratulations. You have a big pile of words to play with!

And if you were one of the 77% (hi there!) who didn’t finish, whatever you wrote you still have, and whatever you learned you’ve still got on your tool belt.

The joke around here is that my NaNoWriMo became a DecNoWriMo, and now I’ve succumb to the fact that it’s really a JaNoWriMo. But that’s fine by me, because when I started my NaNo this year, I realized I didn’t know this story at all. During NaNo month, I didn’t have the time to figure it out, so I just started telling my story, rambling down a long summary.

In the end, I have to start somewhere, and it’s always new.

After NaNoWriMo was over, I took a look at what I had and went, “Ugh.” It was the literary equivalent of waking up to a pot of crusty half-cooked noodles I’d left in the sink the night before.

I know from experience that I couldn’t just think my way out of my lumpy noodly mess. If one thinks and thinks and thinks about the mess, it doesn’t magically become a story. I believe the only way the story gets written is to write it.


by Stefan Zsaitsits

And so, I set the mess aside and pretty much started at the beginning again.

First thing, I had to get to the story…


Part One

I teach an outline style called Sequence and Beat. I teach my students to write out the major sequences of their stories and then divide those up into “scenes” or “beats.” But how do I figure out what those sequences and beats are? Usually by writing exercises where I discover it on the page. (NOT AT THE COMPUTER — these exercises should be hand-written)

Think in terms of Big Action

In the following exercise, you’ll divide your story into three parts (Beginning, Middle, End). In each of these parts, there will be a BIG ACTION that crucially changes the status quo (some call this a reversal). There will be other minor reversals and complications. The Big Ones are the set up of the story (conflict) and the journey (trials and tribulations) that result in achieving (or not) the over-arching goal. If you keep these Big Actions in mind, it will help you move your story forward cohesively.

For instance, if the over-arching goal of the entire story is for a man and woman to be together, there will be things that drive them apart.  Maybe small things at first, but then something that seems insurmountable to them both happens. Maybe the Big Action by the end of the first section is the woman marries someone she doesn’t love. Bummer. Boo.

In Book Four of my White Forest series, the over-arching goal is for Narine to “reset” the world’s balance. Before she can do that, she has to find the one character who knows her destiny. That character is in mortal danger and Narine has to save her. The Big Action in part one is saving this character, but there’s a lot of things that stand in her way.

All the sequences that lead up to the Big Action make sense

The sequences that lead up to this point – the woman marrying someone she doesn’t love, for example – need to make logical sense and/or force the character into this position. What things get in her way and redirect her into doing something she would not have done at the beginning of the story? Did her kingdom become enemies with her lover’s and another kingdom demand her hand for their prince for their allegiance? Or was it more subtle – neither party recognized what the other felt and the man took a job in another country out of heartbreak?


Please write without too much thinking, without stopping, and without rereading & editing

1) Start with the line below and keep writing for 5-7 minutes OR until you think you’ve covered all the events leading up to the Big Action.

The first section of my story all leads up to __(Big Action)___. This event is inevitable because . . .

2) Repeat the exercise for parts Two and Three using the following start lines:

After the events of Part One, my protagonist is left to . . . 

In Part Two, the Big Event that propels/ignites my protagonist into taking action is . . .

In Part Three of my story, the over-arching goal is achieved after . . .









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