Is Your Story PRIMAL?—Anatomy of a Best-Selling Story Part 6

Geiko Caveman.

Geiko Caveman.

Okay, so if you have read all the blogs in this series, you should understand what makes a scene vs. a sequel, understand the three-act dramatic structure. You also understand that the antagonist—or Big Boss Troublemaker—is the engine of your story. Without the BBT, your protagonist’s world would remain unchanged. The BBT’s agenda drives the story. It is the engine. No engine, no forward motion.

By this point, you should also be able to decipher a good idea from a not-so-good idea and then, once decided, state what your book is about in ONE sentence. You can have up to three, but let’s shoot for one.

Welcome to part SIX of my series on novel structure–whoo-hoo! Today we are going to discuss gimmick versus fundamentals of a good story.

First, gimmick. Here is the thing. There are only so many plots. DO NOT try to get creative with plot. Everything has been done. Seriously. Remember Part One of this series? There are only so many elements on the Periodic Table, yet everything in the universe is made up of some combination of these elements. Think of core plots like the elements on the Periodic Table.

Many new writers make writing a novel way too hard in that they try to reinvent the wheel. The wheel works. Leave the wheel alone. You do not have to revinvent plot as we understand it to tell a darn good story.

I find a lot of new writers get really excited about gimmick. Gimmick is dangerous, and gimmicks can bite back. Don’t believe me?

Okay…M. Night Shyamalan. He got us with The Sixth Sense, but after that? It was over. Why? Because the “magic” only worked with a naïve audience. After The Sixth Sense we were like CSI Vegas with every Shyamalan story. Short of using a swab kit and blacklight, we paid attention to every last little detail trying to figure out the twist ending.

This also limited Shyamalan in that he was doomed if he did and doomed if he didn’t. If he told a story with a twist ending, then the audience (no longer naïve) was looking for the clues, so no ending could possibly measure up to The Sixth Sense. But, if Shyamalan tried to do a movie with no twist and do something different, then the audience was ticked because there was no twist.

Shyamalan, in my opinion, is a victim of his own brilliance, and I can see how The Sixth Sense really put him in a bind…because it worked so well. Most of the time gimmicks suck, but even when they are really good…they still suck. So avoid gimmick and just focus on becoming a darn good storyteller.

Anyway, back to my original point.  There are only so many plots, so don’t try to be cute and clever and unique because it is unlikely you will discover a “new element.” Go ahead and try. I guarantee you that one of two things will happen.

One is that you will think you have this new plot no one has ever seen. All excited, you will posit this new-and-shiny-never-before-imagined-idea to your fellow writing friends, and one of them (I promise) will go, “Oh, yeah. That’s like the movie Blah.”

….and then you are required to drink heavily and cry and wonder why you were doomed to be born a writer.

The other end-scenario is that you get so weird that you barely understand your own story, and the poor the reader will need a Dungeon Master Guide, a Garman and a sherpa to navigate your plot.

So, remember. Pizza has rules. Plot has rules. Can’t get too weird. If you still want to invent the plot never seen before? Have fun storming the castle *waves and smiles*.

Moving on…

Plots, at the very core, are usually simple. Why? The plot is the foundation. Now what you construct on top of that foundation can be super-complex. Note I wrote complex NOT complicated.  Even the most complex stories can be boiled down to very simple goals. J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, James Clavell’s Shogun, and MacMurtry’s epic Lonesome Dove all have very simple forces driving very complex and dynamic stories.  Good versus evil. Struggle for power, for survival, for love. Very simple.

As Blake Snyder says in his book Save the Cat: Is it primal? Would a caveman understand the core of your story?

Good storytellers connect with the audience on a basic level. So when you whittle down that idea or novel into a one-sentence log-line, step back and be honest. Does your story hinge on primal drives like survival, hunger, sex, protection of loved ones, or fear of death?

Does it have physical and or emotional stakes? Your story might seem complex, but at the core it should be very basic and connect at a visceral level.

People in China LOVED Titanic.Why? Because it is a love story. Love is basic. It is primal.

Before you start any novel, there are some fundamental questions we can use as a litmus test for our idea. Ask yourself:

Do I have a sympathetic protagonist? 

Notice I said sympathetic…not likable. Be careful here. If we are expecting readers to spend 10 hours (average time to read a novel) with our protagonist, it helps if they are rooting for him to win. If you have a rough protagonist, then you need to at least offer the reader a glimmer of hope that he can be redeemed. If he can’t be redeemed, then you must offer the reader something about your protagonist that puts the reader on his side.

For instance, one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE movies is Tropic Thunder.

Don’t judge me.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 9.49.06 AM

The main protagonist Tugg Speedman is a washout and an action movie has-been. The entire group of actors are hard to like. They are insecure, narcissistic and extremely high-maintenance. One is a hardcore addict. These guys are tough to root for. BUT, when placed in relation to the dreadful Hollywood producer Les Grossman?

We can’t help but cut the actors a break and sympathize, especially after they end up in way over their heads when they are dropped in Vietnam and the plan goes sideways. The actors believe they are in an action movie, but (after a freak twist of events) they are actually pitted against real drug dealers…with real bullets.


Do I have a genuine GOAL for my protagonist?

A lot of first-time novelists get fascinated writing novels about journals, letters and buried secrets. I have a theory about this. It is called, “We-Are-Squeaky-New-and-Don’t-Know-Jack-About-How-to-Plot Syndrome.” Guess how I know this? Yes, I was visited by the Bright Idea Fairy too. Shoot her. Now. Double-tap. It’s for the best.

Novels that involve a journal or finding about a secret past usually involve the newbie author’s favorite tactic…the flashback. Since we have no big goal at the end, forward momentum is scary, so we roll back…and this makes the reader feel as if she is trapped in the car with a teenager learning to drive a stick-shift.

Journals and letters, in my opinion, are so attractive because they provide the unskilled author a contrived mechanism for stringing together unrelated vignettes. That is not a plot. Sorry. I was bummed too. That is okay, though. Everyone starts somewhere. I’m here to help :D.

Yes, you can use journals in your story, but seriously? How many best-selling novels have you seen that involve someone reading a journal? Things written in journals are in the past, which means they have already happened and the world didn’t end so who cares?

To paraphrase Blake Snyder, it becomes a Watch out for that glacier! No rising stakes and no pressing danger. Watch out for the glacier! It’s moving at an inch a year, but watch out!

Conflict drives stories. My best advice? Journals are for self-actualization. Leave self-actualization for therapy. Want a gut-wrenching plot? Stick to the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy ;).

Stories can have a journal/letters, but they MUST ALSO have a main conflict and the journal/letters are merely a tool that drives the present conflict…which is your plot.

The journal isn’t the plot. Neither are the letters.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants had conflict happening real-time. Yes, the novel contained each girl’s experience with the pants, but each girl’s story was a separate plot joined in one large plot and happening real-time. Each girl was facing a different challenge and had to mature in a different way, but the group of girls (the group is actually the protagonist) had to learn to mature while finding a way to hold on to childhood friendship.

Same with The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya-Sisterhood. The Ya-Ya Journal was critical for the daughter and mother (present-day) to repair the rift in their relationship. So there was a present-day problem that the journal solved, and basically you have a Fried Green Tomatoes. Two parallel plot lines and the present-day plot relies on past-time events to drive forward momentum in the present.

Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook was the same thing. Two parallel love stories, but both had a plot arc. The love story told in the notebook drives the present-day love story in the nursing home.

Same with secrets. The secret must have something to do with the present-day story or it is just a contrivance. The secret can be a part of the story, but generally doesn’t work as the entire story.

Linda Castillo executes this brilliantly in her novel Sworn to Silence. Chief of Police, Kate Burkholder, grew up Amish, but made a choice to live in the world with the English. She is the Chief of Police in a small Ohio community of both Amish and English, and she acts as a cultural bridge.

When a serial killer begins butchering women, Kate leads the investigation, but a secret from her past holds clues to catching the present-day killer. Kate’s secret drives the forward momentum of the present-day plot, and adds mind-bending tension.

Is my story primal?

Beneath the empires and spaceships and unicorns, is your main plot driven by a basic human desire/need? Here is a list of some best-selling novels to illustrate my point.

Michael Crichton’s Prey—Survival. Save/protect loved ones.

Michael Crichton’s Jurassic ParkDon’t get eaten. Protect loved ones.

Lee Child’s Killing FloorVengeance. Protect loved ones.

Suzanne Collins Hunger Games—Don’t die. Survive. Protect loved ones.

Cormac McCarthy The RoadSurvive. Protect loved ones.

Linda Castillo Sworn to Silence—Fear of death. Survive. Protect loved ones.

Jennifer Chiaverini The Aloha Quilt—Love. Sex. Protect loved ones. Survival.

Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island—Survival. Vengeance. Protect loved ones.

Dennis Lehane’s Mystic RiverVengeance.

Veronica Roth’s DivergentSurvive. Belong. Protect loved ones.

Okay, so as you can see, I read a lot of genres. But most great books can be boiled down to a very simple driving force. New writers very frequently rush into the writing with no idea of the story they are trying to tell. I know. I’ve been there. And since deep-down we know we do not have a core goal that is simple and primal, we try to compensate by making things more and more complicated.

That’s why so many writers have a panic attack about the agent pitch session. We are forced to boil down our plot to the primal core…and we can’t because there isn’t one. So we ramble and blather and try to fit 400 pages of world-building complications into our pitch while trying not to throw up in our shoes (Been there. Done that. Got the T-Shirt).

Being complicated is like trying to use Bond-O putty to fix your plot. Won’t work. Strip that baby down and look at the bare bones. Simple. Primal. This is why gimmicks are a sticky wicket. Gimmicks make stories complicated instead of complex. Stay away.

Remember that there are no new plots. So why not take a story you really love, look at the plot, then make it your own? The award-winning novel A Thousand Acres is King Lear on an Iowa farm. In my pov, Twilight was Jane Eyre with vampires (and I am not alone in this assessment).

Instead of trying to totally revinvent story and plot as we understand it, why not take a book you love so much the pages are falling out of it, and see if you can use the premise in a new and exciting way?

Utilizing another author’s plot is not plagiarism. It’s smart. Remember…the number of plots is finite. I think this is where a lot of writers get stuck. Heck, I did! We believe we have to come up with a story never told before or risk being accused of plagiarism. Not so.

Plagiarism is when someone takes the execution of another author’s plot and tries to hide that by only changing surface elements. So if I wrote a book called Evening about girl who moves from Texas to Northern California to fall in love with a vampire who merely glimmers in sunlight…. See the point?

Actually, a great way to come up with story ideas is to go to the IMDB and look at log-lines, then ask yourself how could you tell that story differently.

A timid romance author must travel to South America and join forces with a handsome opportunist to rescue her sister who’s been kidnapped by treasure-hunting thieves. (Romancing the Stone).

A shy librarian must travel to South Texas and join forces with a handsome biker to rescue her brother who has been kidnapped by desperate drug-dealers. (Kristen’s Made-Up-Just-Now Story).

See how you can take a story that has already been done and make it something amazing and new?

So what are some problems you guys are facing when it comes to plot? Do you have any resources to share? Have I scared the socks off you or offered you new inspiration? Share. I love hearing from you guys. Lets me know I haven’t given you a massive coronary and killed you off, :D. I appreciate your loyalty to this series.

Oh, by the way. Since there seemed to be a lot of interest in log-lines and creating them or repairing them, I am thinking on doing a class and workshop to help. Is this something that would interest you guys? It would be about $35. Lemme know.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook


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  1. Reblogged this on Chronicles of a Nerd and commented:
    Great stuff. Looking back at my own writing, yep, I was there at one point.

  2. All of these things are great reminders for me as I’m hip-deep in a new project. Conflict, active protagonists, plot arc and structure — all of it so essential, yet we so easily forget it sometimes once the beautiful words begin to flow onto the screen. We get enamored with the wallpaper and quit worrying about the termite infested wall behind it.

    Thanks for this series of posts!

  3. Thank you for re-enforcing what I keep telling myself, that I’ve been doing it right! I really admire how you always say it like it is, even when others don’t want to hear it.

  4. Do you make presentation appearances? Couldn’t find anything on your blog about that. Love to see you put your excellent posts together and expand them into a book. Been writing a while and found some real nuggets in your advice. DLH

  5. Boiling down the story to a sentence and finding the themes–used to avoid it but I’m enjoying the process now. Makes for better outlining.

  6. Loved this! So helpful. You have a new fan 🙂

  7. Great advice yet again. Don’t reinvent the wheel. I have definitely spent too much time trying to reinvent rather than creating a good story out of a plot that is already similar to countless others at its core. I have one story that I am going back and re-writing from this new perspective, keeping the core of it and coming at it embracing the basic plot rather than trying to reinvent it. I think those attempts only made for a long and rambling book the first go round.

  8. Logline class sounds like an amazing idea. My first novel seems to be taking an inordinately long time to get right. But my impatience decreases every time I learn something else on your blog. I want my first book to be the best it can be and that takes time. Thanks for keeping people like me on the right track.

    • Paulla Schreiner on May 20, 2015 at 10:49 am
    • Reply

    I love your wit. I never read one of your blogs without laughing out loud at least twice.

  9. I would love to take a logline class from you!

    1. Oh my!

      I open my novel with a Journal/diary chapter. It is really a prologue. I did it because in the third book, which I have penned but not published as of yet, the journals/scrolls, et al take on a significant meaning. I did it after I finished the third book, and deduced the link was appropriate.

      I only actually write in a journa-form in that first chapter, and never again in that novel or the next two books.

      In addition, at the heading of each chapter I provide a message of sorts, and a quote where it came from, as in “The writing of the Druids”, Or “The Book of Last days.” But I never explain these books further, until the final book.

      Now you have me concerned that it was a “cop-out.”

      Oh my!, Oh my!

      Ah, there you are sweet bottle of scotch.

      1. …..and I have no idea how my comment got into Ms. Hunt’s message, oppsies!!!

  10. I loved reading this- it makes me feel better that I didn’t reinvent the wheel (because that is kind of hard …) Thanks for the encouragement!!

    • Melissa Lewicki on May 20, 2015 at 11:57 am
    • Reply

    Did you ever read a book called The Anderson Tapes by Lawrence Sanders? It is a caper book that is told almost totally by way of transcripts of recordings, reports and interviews. It is really good. The conflicts, the characters and the setting are all revealed in this unusual way. But, it works because there is a plot, there is conflict and there are characters that the reader cares about. Enjoyed your post, as usual.

  11. Finally getting to reading this series (backwards). Perfect timing. My first round of novel edits and suggested revises just came from the publisher. Taking “More Than You Think You Know” to the next PRIMAL level. Grateful for the timing of your valuable and fun-to-read advice! WANA, Towanda!

  12. Huh. I think the main plot of my WIP is likely survival, forgiveness (is that a primal thing? I don’t know).

  13. I love your posts about plot. The problem I tend to run into is getting confused about which thread is my main plot and which is a subplot.

  14. Am I interested in a logline class? You betcha! Circumstances may mean I can only read the transcripts rather than take part live, but I’m still interested. Just let me know when. I know the where would be in a WANA “classroom.”. 🙂

    1. We have a virtual classroom 😀 .

  15. Another great post, Kristen – am really enjoying this series! You’ve certainly gotten that lazy hamster in my head back running on his wheel! ;D

    Yes, yes, yes – I would definitely be interested in the log-line class/workshop!

  16. Reblogged this on jean's writing and commented:
    Great info. Thanks for reminding me about Not only a good resource for loglines and summary help but just plain fun.

  17. These blog posts about the story structure and anatomy of a bestselling story are very helpful for a beginner. Thank you for sharing them!

    • lilapinord on May 20, 2015 at 3:26 pm
    • Reply

    I love your blogs. I haven’t started one yet, but will –someday. How do I know anyone will read it?
    This latest article made me rethink the book I am currently writing -as to who or what is the antagonist, can I make him more sympathetic or interesting? What if he cannot be redeemed in any way?

  18. Well put. That’s the core.

  19. being free and surviving – is that basic enough?

  20. Reblogged this on Nancy Segovia and commented:
    So easy a caveman could do it? Really?

  21. Alas my story features a book discovered in an old house but in my defence, the story isn’t solely about the freaky book or its contents. My protagonist becomes obsessed with it because it provides her with a purpose that assuages her survivor guilt. As the obsession progresses, it drives a wedge between her and her friends and family. Her friends want her to get rid of the book because they believe it to be dangerous, her family believe that she has fabricated the entire thing herself. Everyone is against her having the book but they also conflict with each other over what it actually is, in a science vs religion type of disagreement. It does bring some resolution to family issues but ultimately it’s a tragedy and no one comes out of it well.

    1. bardotbarbiturate,
      I had to comment on your WIP. It sounds wonderfully captivating! It definitely is a book I would read. The discovery of this book sounds like a catalyst for all sorts of problems and adventures for the protagonist and the other characters. Who/what is your antagonist, if you don’t mind me asking? I also like the idea that your story is a tragedy. Happy Writing!

      1. Thank you, I’m aiming for captivating! There’s no shortage of adventures (not all of them nice) and the problems have been brewing for some time. The events surrounding the book is what brings them to the fore. The antagonist is her guilt as that’s what drives her obsession onto an ever darkening path. I wish it were happy writing, I’m on the second draft and it’s torture!

  22. If my hubby didn’t cringe and start twitching whenever I suggest spending MONEY to enhance my “hobby,” I would certainly be taking classes from you. I tend to push the envelope with him simply with spending TIME on my “hobby.”

    Anyway, I thank you for this post. It makes more sense to me now why everyone was sharing their log-lines in the comments. I was hesitant because my first thought was “what if someone steals my idea?” But you’re right, the plots are all the same.

    My WIP is primal. Like most of your examples, it’s the protection of loved ones. The log-line is “A restaurant/bar owner dotes on his youngest daughter, but the lifting of Prohibition puts her in imminent danger of her alcoholic mother.”

    By the way, I agree with you about Shyamalan, but I still loved The Village anyway because of the parallels it shared with The Crucible both in plot and creation. 🙂

    1. I’m sorry to hear your husband isn’t as supportive as he could be with your writing. I hope over time this changes, because that can be a real barrier. I’ve heard other writers who experienced this offered to share their writing or take spouse to a book event to meet others doing the same thing. Or even encourage them in their own creative pursuit so you each have “hobbies” that require support. Best wishes 🙂

      1. Thanks Stephanie. 🙂 I’ve tried sharing my work, but he doesn’t read fiction. One of his sisters (the one who is an avid reader and has his respect) is taking a strong interest in my books, so maybe she can bridge the gap. 🙂

  23. I’d love to be part of the logline workshop!! As always, great post to reinforce the craft and the basics!!!

  24. Oh, thank you so much for this!! My protagonist’s main goal is to protect a loved one, but I’ve always been afraid it was a “weak” goal (since most of his protecting involves keeping a secret that’s in danger of being spilled, and keeping a secret isn’t a super active plan) so I’ve tried to downplay his goal in my blurbs, and made the entire blurb sound weak, because it’s lacking. But this post encourages me to PLAY UP that element, not play it down! I can see now that it’s a very common and primal goal for protagonists, so that makes me feel much better. 🙂

  25. I’m a plot-challenged writer; plot has been horribly hard to master–and so I love what you said about stealing a plot you love. For myself, I find movies easier to steal than books, if only because they’re simpler, more boiled down to the basics. My upcoming release is Romancing the Stone as science fiction, and another I just sold to a publisher is The African Queen on a hostile moon. I analyze the movie, looking for the stages in the characters’ quest and especially the turning points. Then I devise analogous turning points. I don’t say it makes my writing easier, but it makes my writing tighter and better.

  26. I definitely would want to take a logline class with you. Sign me up!

    This was a perfect blog post for me because I was concerned my WIP was not original. I had read 2 other books with a similar plot to my story. However, my protagonist, location, rational, and other elements are quite different that I don’t think I have to worry now I have read this post.

    I read in someone else’s comment asking if you would write a book based on many of these helpful posts and expand upon them. I think that is an excellent idea, and I would buy the book!

    I also want to thank you for sharing your logline in reply to my comment in the last post. I did want your opinion on my logline, but I will wait for the class as I think it still needs work. ?

    • Hayson Manning on May 21, 2015 at 4:33 am
    • Reply

    I always learn so much from your posts so will absolutely sign up for the class.

  27. This post gave me ambition. I was having that internal struggle of ‘is this story good enough’, ‘is the plot a big bore’. After reading this, the struggle has shrank. It’s still there but that’s only because I’m a newbie, and I know it. If I keep the tension going and make the characters interesting enough, the story will be okay. Thank you, Kristen.

    • Barbara on May 21, 2015 at 12:01 pm
    • Reply

    I loved the effect that the superb film Sixth Sense (and Unbreakable) had on me. I was a bit taken aback when you said it was mistake to have written this story after acknowledging it was brilliant. What is wrong with a one-off book anyway, especially if it is of this calibre?

    1. I never said it was as mistake. I said it was risky. That YES it can work, but that can bite back so don’t get too worried if you don’t have a MIRACULOUS twist ending.

  28. This is where the first novel I wrote fell into deep hurt. It’s always wise to boil the conflict down to the most basic element. I agree usually it is fear, love, protect and survive, but those don’t have to involve dinosaurs or an apocalypse. Secondhand Lions is really a coming of age story about surviving (or escaping) the abusive men his mother always settled for. And yet is involves adventures, flashbacks, bullies and so much more.
    Check out Jami Gold as a resource for beat sheets that will help even pansters get the major turning points in their plot figured out.

  29. I disagree that Shamalayn’s Sixth Sense was his last good one. I think that Signs and Unbreakable were good.

    1. I didn’t say it was his last good one. I said none could live UP to The Sixth Sense. In those movies we were LOOKING for the twist. Make sense? And even then, they really were a denouemente after Sixth Sense.

      1. I think Signs did but you’re right about the others.

    • Pirkko Rytkonen on May 21, 2015 at 2:02 pm
    • Reply

    My story is about a wife keeping the secret of the baby she gave away before they married in order to save their marriage. But the baby, now a grown man, shows up at her door. The son’s secret is his drug addiction until it’s revealed. Her obsession with saving him from jail and eventual death drives her to insanity until she must reveal the reason why she keeps trying to save this young man.

  30. I wanted to thank you for for for writing this series. I’m a new writer, having only recently decided to make a serious attempt at this. My biggest problem with writing has always been plot. I’ll have great characters/world, a spark of an interesting idea, and no idea how to make the story happen. Whenever I tried to plot, it felt like just a string of events. Thanks to you, I realize I didn’t know anything about plot or structure other than what I intuitively picked up as a voracious reader. I had no idea how to “build the roller coaster”. I’ve already gone to the library to request Plot and Structure. This series has been really insightful for me, and will make the writing process easier and the finished product stronger. Thank you again.

    On an unrelated note, I’ve been trying to join WANA, but my request has been “pending” for almost a week. Any idea if/when I might hear?

    1. I just need to approve you. I have been remiss and we get blasted with bots from Pakistan. I’ll take care of you 😀 .

  31. Reblogged this on The Writers' Room.

  32. Reblogged this on Christina Anne Hawthorne and commented:
    Another installment of Kristen’s sensational series…

  33. I discovered this blog this morning and I just want to say how great this series is! I’ve been writing fanfiction for years, but recently I began writing my own novel. This series nicely explained a lot of the issues with my writing in general and for that I am grateful. I love creating characters, but I have a lot of issues creating a cohesive plot my world building needs a lot of work. I tried to tell my boyfriend what my book was going to be about and…well, it didn’t go well and now I know why. Kudos to him for not laughing at me! I’m also very guilty of trying to re-invent the wheel when I just need to keep it simple.

    This series has inspired me to grow in this craft even if it is a hobby for now. Love reading the comments from other readers who have similar struggles.

    Thank you, Ms Lamb! I will definitely be reading more of your work.

    1. Great to meet you! Often we HAVE a story, we just feel the need to include every last detail in the pitch. This is to help you see what is salient so you have better focus.

  34. Darn, Kristen. Now I have to start over. Again.

    Thank you. It’s a lot easier on my psyche to fix my broken work at this stage than wait until somebody reads it and says, “Wait….huh?”

  35. Great blog! Thanks for an informative article.

  36. I may be interested in the logline course. I’ve read Save the Cat and Michael Hauge’s screenwriting material, and but I still have trouble nailing those core story goals. In an online forum course I took, the moderator said a logline differs from a ptch, and the logline is all external plot. What I’d used for a pitch the moderator said didn’t work because it included internal conflict. Color me tripped up. I have no idea anymore! The story I’m working with has more of an internal conflict–external is there also, but the story is not summed up entirely with external.

    I love the idea of looking through IMdB loglines. I have a new idea for a story that came from a What If? on a movie I like. I want to take the existing concept and make it my own. I also did this with a finished book–it was still just as challenging even though the basic plot was already determined. No easy way around plotting 🙂

    1. (Further proof I need a course on this). I’m looking through IMdB and most of these loglines are descriptions without stakes. Is that the point of a logline, vs a pitch that would details stakes?

      Grosse Pointe Blank: Martin Blank is a professional assassin. He is sent on a mission to a small Detroit suburb, Grosse Pointe, and, by coincidence, his ten-year high school reunion party is taking place there at the same time.

      There are no stakes here; it’s just presenting information. This works for me as a movie viewer to get the gist of what the movie entails, but if I were to say post this on a loglines blog for critique, I can imagine I would be told there are no stakes and to rewrite with a character goal. Would that goal + stakes then be a pitch, where as this listing of external plot info is a logline?

      1. Not all log-lines in IMDB are written well 🙂 . The IMDB is just to give you an idea of how to wrap up en entire story into a sentence or three. It can be done. We writers tend to think EVERYTHING in our story is worth mentioning. Some of the IMDB entires are good to use as a point-by-point template, but not always, which is why I gave y’all a formula just in case 😉

  37. Hmm…I don’t know but if someone mentions “ten-year high school reunion” to me, I immediately think that the stakes are survival with the possibility of love or protection of loved ones.

    Then again, I went to Catholic school, so maybe everyone’s scars aren’t as prevalent as mine. 😉

    As for story structure resources, I have copies of Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering and Story Physics on my nightstand.

    Thanks for another great post.

    1. Larry Brooks RULES.

  38. This is wonderful! Solid advice we all have to keep in mind, every step of the way (especially me, hehe)

    • Katrina on May 28, 2015 at 2:18 pm
    • Reply

    I would definitely be interested in a log line class! I guess ultimately my protag is a man figuring out that the love of his life has always been there. But not sure how to say it. I love plotting though, even though I’m a newbie!!! It’s taken me 25 years to finally start writing the stories in my head. And not a journal or letter to be found in my manuscript….so insightful thanks!!

  39. Reblogged this on scribblings007.

  40. Reblogged this on writersback and commented:
    From Kristen’s blog: “There are no new plots.” Look at the log-line of a story you love and make it your own. IMDB is a great source if a movie exists that you love. I have used it often to get ideas on how to write log-lines.

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