- “What if. . .”
Write down the “what if?” PREMISE of your novel. Then every time you look up, pondering where to go after a difficult scene, you will be re-oriented on your chosen path, kept within the bounds of the story you intend to tell. Make sure there is not only an initial premise, but also a problem with that initial premise.
- What if 1950s hair-dryers were the doorways to an almost-identical parallel universe where the truth floats in the air over people’s heads whenever they lie—but everyone arrives there hair-first, so when more than one person arrives at once the truths get mixed up when they collide?
1950s hairdryers = parallel universe of truth-words collisions
- What if the world were secretly populated by a super-intelligent race that lives in fire and speaks a fire language that sounds to us just like popping and crackling, and forest fires were the result of psychotic episodes among the powerful politicians of their species? And the plucky members of a backwoods volunteer fire department discover this secret just in time to learn that the fire creatures have decided to wipe out humanity and start over again with a less dangerous species—but the fire chief is in the throes of an identity crisis in which they question the destructive influence of humans upon the earth?
Fire race apocalypse vs. environmental despair of fire chief
- What if dogs were secret agents with the ability to solve international crime if they could only be distracted from sniffing each others’ tails all the time? And they were now, decades after Eisenhower first warned Americans to beware the military-industrial complex, finally positioned to reveal the source of evil that has been chiseling away all this time at American political stability—but the evil-doers have concocted a special drug to put into the agents’ food that make their own tails crack-level addictive to sniff?
Check Fido’s food for weird drugs!
- “My protagonist needs. . .”
Write down the enormous, gut-wrenching, overwhelming NEED in your protagonist that fuels your novel. What has that character devoted their entire life to obtaining—even if unconsciously? (Especially if unconsciously!)
Franky and Johnny need to consummate their love for each over the resistance of obstacles they create themselves in order to overcome their own fundamental terror of nihilism.
F & J need to overcome obstacles re: fear of nihilism
Albert Reed McNeedleman needs to prove his mother’s creepily-possessive faith in him by becoming the most financially-successful used-car salesman in the blogosphere.
Albert needs the most blogosphere used-car sales
- Peony Surplus needs to reject the values of Buddhism with which she was raised, in particular the belief that destructive impulses must be tempered with humility.
Peony needs to rebel against Buddhist humility
- “My protagonist also needs. . .”
Write down the CONFLICTING NEED that prevents your protagonist from satisfying their first need. Internal conflict is the heart & soul of fiction. For every need there is an equal and opposite need—this is what makes readers turn pages.
- Franky and Johnny are really, really, really good at creating obstacles for themselves.
F & J also need obstacles re: fear of nihilism
- Albert Reed McNeedleman needs the emotional validation of his secret online identity as the revolutionary covert incest spokesperson, bringing support and healing to thousands of anonymous sufferers.
Albert also needs his online covert incest exposee
- Peony Surplus needs to succeed at running her dead parents’ groundbreaking Buddhist think-tank that is the source of income keeping her little sister in the hospital on life-support.
Peony also needs to save her sister w/Buddhism
- “My protagonist’s worst nightmare is. . .”
Write down the worst thing you could possibly do to this protagonist to bring their two needs into opposition. This is the CLIMAX you are aiming for.
- Franky and Johnny lose their creative capacity to create obstacles for themselves and must face life together without protection against their terror of nihilism—just as they unwittingly uncover the plot to disable the secret agent dogs who are the world’s only hope of uncovering the secret evil that is bent on global domination.
F & J’s worst nightmare is: save world vs. succumb to nihilism
- Albert Reed McNeedleman learns of the dilemma of the backwoods fire chief who is the only person in the world who speaks fire-language, and realizes he is the one person who can help the chief resolve the covert incest issues that his environmental despair masks—just when Albert’s used-car business rockets to the top of a global blogosphere competition to face off against their biggest competitor, in the used-car selling showdown to end all showdowns.
Albert’s worst nightmare is: save world vs. most used cars sold
- Peony Surplus is given responsibility for deciding whether to sell the think-tank to her parents’ mortal enemies, who plan to turn it into a Tea Party marketing franchise, and get out for good, knowing she is putting a finite cap on the duration of her little sister’s life just as she takes a turn for the better, or to lead a seven-month meditation fundraiser in which she must lead meditation upon the Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path, and Three Marks, as well as all 31 planes of existence, in order to give the think-tank a new boost in popularity—just when she is shot through a hair-dryer into the truth-telling parallel universe and collides with the Dalai Lama.
Peony’s worst nightmare is: rebellion vs. truth—plus now her hair is all tangled up with the Dalai Lama’s. . .oh, wait. That’s not a problem. He’s bald!
And when you’ve got your post-its up, be sure you know the 6 Ways to Shoot Yourself in the Foot.
The Art and Craft of Fiction:
A Practitioner’s Manual
by Victoria Mixon
“The freshest and most relevant advice you’ll find.”—Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“Wonderfully useful, bracing and humorous. . .demystifies essential aspects of craft while paying homage to the art.”—Millicent Dillon, five time O. Henry Award winner and PEN/Faulkner nominee
“Teeming with gold. . .makes you love being a writer because you belong to the special club that gets to read this book.”—KM Weiland, author of Outlining Your Novel
The Art and Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner’s Manual
by Victoria Mixon
“Opinionated, rumbunctious, sharp and always entertaining. . .lessons of a writing lifetime.”—Roz Morris, best selling ghostwriter and author of Nail Your Novel
“As much a gift to writers as an indispensible resource. . .in a never-done-before manner that inspires while it teaches. Highly recommended.”—Larry Brooks, author of four bestselling thrillers and Story Engineering
“I wish I’d had The Art & Craft of Story when I began work on my first novel.”—Lucia Orth, author of the critically-acclaimed Baby Jesus Pawn Shop
MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world's expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .
BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by PanMacmillan. Read more. . .
LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .
SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .
STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield's second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .
ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny's debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights. Read more. . .
TERISA GREEN, represented by Dystel and Goderich Literary Management, is widely considered the foremost American authority on tattooing through her tattoo books published by Simon & Schuster, which have sold over 45,000 copies. Under the name M. TERRY GREEN, she writes her techno-shaman sci-fi/fantasy series. I am working with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .
JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .
In addition, I work with dozens of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this literary art and craft.