Weekend Workout: More This is a Story About

My virtual friend Miriam Forster is debuting as a published author and her final rewrite is due at the end of the month.

If you have ever been through this process, you will fall in love with her when you read HER POST about what it’s like having your child book leave the nest. She hits it on the nose when it comes to the difficulty of that final rewrite before it’s out of your hands.

The thing is, it’s never perfect. You could go on tweaking your manuscript forever. At some point, you just have to let it go. I’m telling this to myself as much as you b/c my final rewrite is also due at the end of the month and I’ve been petting the pooch for the past week. Perfectionism feeds the procrastination monster at my house.

When it gets like this, it’s time to go back to, you got it, This is a Story About . . . Oh, no, you say, not again. But did you really do it the last time I asked you to? Be honest.

Here’s something Miriam’s post reminded me to tell you, though. Your story is not about a girl who climbs a mountain to get a magical sword to slay an evil emperor. That’s just what happens in your story. That’s not what it’s about.

What it’s about is something more universal that can be told in myriad forms. From Miriam’s post:

. . . despite everything, all the changes and reworking and reimagining, I still see the story I sat down to write four years ago. A story about love and expectations and forgiveness and freedom and how human beings snarl them all together like a tangled kite string. A story about what happens when there are no good choices, when you pick the best path you can see and it still turns out to be wrong. The heart of the story is still there, still beating.

That’s a story I want to read. It doesn’t matter if it’s historical fiction or future fantasy or a western or steampunk. I don’t know what it’s like to be a bomber in WWII or a future miner on the moon, but I do know what it’s like to face impossible decisions.

The things that happen in your story are wrapped around what it’s about. And if you know what your story is about on this deeper universal level, the character’s decisions and the obstacles in their way won’t become random events. They will feed what it’s about.

This is my 6th rewrite of Ruins of Noe and I’m still using this exercise.

It's not just something I tell you to do!

Here’s the exercise from earlier this week.

And here’s a few tips:

1) Do all three writings, 5, 7, and 10 minutes. Each time you will go a little deeper and sometimes the aha doesn’t come until that 3rd exercise. I was really excited b/c in the 10 minute version I figured out a small scene I needed to insert as a moment of bonding between 2 characters.

2) Start with short sentences and start each short sentence with the line This is a story about . . . I call this “winding myself up.” When the ideas start to flow, then I forget about the punctuation and just go. When I get stuck or pause too long, I go back to short sentences with my start line.

3) Start with what it’s really about: revenge, justice, dealing with lost love, guilt, forgiveness, etc. Don’t second guess if something comes out that sounds wrong or unexpected. These are all simply ideas to explore. You’ll know when one lands.

Here’s a sample from my 5-minute version:

This is a story about a young girl who is forced to grow up before her time. This is a story about a girl having her first crush in the middle of upheaval in the world. This is a story about tumultuous transition. Change is always difficult. Change is difficult even for those who are supposed to be wise and in charge. This is a story about a women and a girl who grow closer through adversity. This is a story about sacrifice, a woman who sacrifices herself for the good of the world. This is a story about endings and beginnings. The Ancients know this would be difficult for the faeries, but it’s time to let go. Like parents letting their imperfect children out into the world. You can only give them so much, teach them so much, protect them so much – – eventually, you must let go. Etc. Etc.

Have a great weekend!


  1. Hands Free Mama
    Dec 19, 2011

    This is very enlightening! I learned so much in your post! I am going to check out your friend’s Miriam’s site, as well. I love hearing about published authors. So inspiring!!!

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