I have a lot of problems with plotting. I’ve always felt that plot is my weak point. I struggle hard to conceive of realistic and interesting plot elements because I get terrified of the blank place where everything seems possible, and it all feels so overwhelming. The idea of “brainstorming” is so scary to me. Ideas from where? Where does the storm come from?? I can’t count how many brainstorming sessions have left me reduced to tears of frustration, because I have characters that feel real and speak to me and a world that feels rich and alive, but I can’t figure out what story to tell.
Reading STORY GENIUS by Lisa Cron really helped with that fear. Her concept of the “third rail,” and how everything needs to spark that third rail that’s the heart of the story you’re telling, was super helpful to me. It helped explain why it was so hard for me to choose between different routes the plot can go. I often and mistakenly got carried away by wanting my plots to fit neatly into beat sheets or “fill in the blank” plot structures, instead of narrowing down plot elements by choosing what served the “third rail” that is story.
STORY GENIUS also helped me by encouraging me to do a certain level of “pre-writing” that I always disdained as wasted effort. The book explained in no uncertain terms and with an abundance of proof that the effort was never truly wasted. This is something my talented writer and editor of a spouse is always telling me, and that never really seemed to register until I read it in a published book.
I really look forward to applying the STORY GENIUS model to my own work. Unfortunately, I’m nearly 100k words into #VVWIP, so it feels by far too late to apply the model. I plan to apply it once I finish drafting #VVWIP and am in revisions. I can already see looking at #VVWIP that my plot is trying hard to adhere to a character-driven “third rail” but wiggles all over the place rather than staying adhered to my character’s emotional journey. I’ve got to tamp down the wiggles, and I really think STORY GENIUS will help me do that. For that, it’s worth its weight in gold.
The only thing I feel that is missing from STORY GENIUS is a list at the end of all the “What to do:” portions of the book, neatly summed up in a few pages. This is definitely a book you want to take notes on, and one of the few books where I’ve really felt like the exercises provided would be fruitful for an actual working manuscript. This impression is only aided by Cron’s strategy of sharing her writer friend Jennie’s story throughout the book, developed using the STORY GENIUS method. Watching Jennie work her thoughts out is so helpful and makes me feel comfortable with the messy work of developing my own ideas.
Messy, but not meandering — not anymore.