Thursday, August 09, 2007

Seven Elements of a Story Concept

I don't know how many of you are signed up for the AskAnAuthorPro loop, but they get some really good presenters every now and then. Sylvie Kurtz, a romantic suspense author for Harlequin Intrigue, is presenting a workshop on the seven elements of a story concept. It's really good! And her website has a section on writing tips with a lot more good stuff for writers.

Here are Sylvie's seven elements:

  1. a main character (person through whose eyes the reader will see the story)
  2. a flaw (defense mechanism he feels he needs to survive)
  3. a goal (something concrete and specific hero is working toward)
  4. an ally (someone who helps hero overcome his flaw)
  5. an opponent (someone who pushes hero’s emotional buttons)
  6. a lifechanging event (instigated by opponent—opportunity, challenge or threat; related to flaw)
  7. an implied journey (where the main character risks losing something important to him either physically or emotionally)

Sylvie says: "A story concept is a tool. It's a one- to three-sentence description of your story. It allows you to see your story in a concentrated form and helps you see if your story is structurally sound before you write. You can also use this tool to help you refocus as you write. And ultimately, it may help you sell your story."

I love this because I'm one of those who likes to have a quick, one-minute elevator speech about my book and this works great for that.

Sylvie goes on to say: "The nice thing about building a concept from these seven elements is that you can start anywhere. If you know only one of the elements, you can use it to figure out the others. Everything you're going to add to the piece you know is going to add conflict. If you're a plotter, you can start with the life-changing event and find the best characters to go with it. If you're someone who lets the characters take you along for the ride, then you can start with the hero or the opponent or the ally and work your way to a fitting plot."

Cool, huh? 8^)

She gives an examply from her July Intrigue, Spirit of a Hunter (The Seekers, Book 5):

A security-driven (flaw) mother (hero), desperately seeks to find her son (goal), kidnapped by her mentally ill ex-husband (life-changing event) before her manipulative father-in-law (opponent) takes him away from her. With the help of the dark and brooding Seeker (ally), who was her ex’s best friend, she faces her fears and finds the courage to battle her father-in-law to reclaim her son. (implied journey).

Based on the 7 elements, can you write up your book's story concept? I'm going to try it later this afternoon. I'm swamped today (what a surprise. Sigh) but I've been wanting to try Sylvie's exercise all week. Come on and entice us with your great concept!


Paty Jager said...

Nice Blog, Karen.

I'll try this. The concept isn't very good, but it gave me lots more information about my characters and story as I tried to figure out how to write it.

To fulfill a commitment to his family and community, Ethan battles a tough and tantalizing widow who refuses to sell her land. The woman's young daughter shows Ethan unconditional love and changes the course of not only his life but that of her family.

Karen Duvall said...

Ooh, Paty, I like it! Good job! 8^)

I just got home from 3 meetings, and once I get a few more fires put out for the day, I'll try my hand at Sylvie's exercise, too.

Alice Sharpe said...

I'll give it a try, too, Karen:

The police officer son of a drunk works tirelessly to win back his reputation and peace of mind after killing what appears to be an unarmed kid, before the boy's father can complete his pledge to extract an eye for an eye. With the help of his estranged wife, who he shunned in his disgrace, he faces his worst fear -- that he won't live up to be the man he thought he was, the man his wife and son desperately need him to prove he can be.

It's not great and I slavishly followed Sylvie's example, but like Paty said, it did help crystallize the important main points and may even ind its way into the synopsis (perhaps in a slightly less awkward form.)

So, thanks. Hey, everyone, give it a try, it isn't as hard as you think it will be. Barb, how about giving us a peek or your contest contender!


Alice Sharpe said...

I would like to know in what universe the word "ind" exists. Why didn't my spell check catch this? I mean "find."

Honestly ...

wavybrains said...

This is just what I need today. I'm having a hard with my edits---seeing the Forest is VERY hard right now, b/c there seems to be SEVERAL forests depending on which way I squint at the trees . . . . .I digress.

I can't seem to do this for just ONE of the M/C so here's what I've got. 1-3 sentence description just isn't working here either. GRRRRRRRR. Is the story too complex maybe? Or am I just bogged down in synopsis? Feedback, PLEASE:

Gen can't live life without a to-do list. Unfortunately, her father's death has upended her perfect life plan. Now, she's scrambling to find a new plan and quick: she's got to save the family business and have a baby--all in the next year. Gen's perfect sister, Portia, is already counting the money she'll make from the failure of the business, and she's winning the heir race as well. And it turns out that Portia's not the only one banking on Gen's failure.

Dan's not surprised that all Gen's plans keeping falling through. Plans are way overrated. He prefers to live his life in the moment. Of course, this approach has landed him back in River's Edge, renting from Gen, and with his art career stuck in neutral. The only goal he's interested in right now is Gen, but she's too busy search for the perfect man for her plan.

They're both in for a wild ride when they discover that the only thing you can plan on is love.

wavybrains said...

Double Grrr. I like how lean Paty and Alice's examples are. Both of your examples totally hook me. I'm not sure HOW I ended up writing such a convoluted story that defies condensing. GRR.

Paty Jager said...

Wavy try this:
Gen can't live without a to-do list. But her father's death wasn't on her list and now she has to save the family business and have a baby in a year. One more thing not on her list- being seduced by a flighty artist.

You can change the artist thing, because you know him better than me, but this grabs the reader's attention without going into too much detail. You know she is anal because she has a list, you know her world is thrown in a loop because things are happening she doesn't have mapped out. And then needing a baby and being seduced by the exact opposite as her- that will make conflict.

Paty Jager said...

Alice, sounds intriguing.(pun intended)*snort* (sorry Karen, had to borrow your snort) When's this one coming out?

Alice Sharpe said...

Wavy, calm down, all that adrenalin isn't good for the you know who is still hitching a ride your know where.

I think you're right, I think you are looking at too many trees. You would not believe the backstory in the book I used. But this isn't about telling all. Let's put your m/c on a diet and follow Sylvie's form exactly. And remember, this isn't just about that m/c. Paty's shows us a glimpse of her heroine as do I while Sylvie shows a glimpse of her hero and all show the hurtles to be overcome. It's the big picture you're aiming for here, like Karen said, the elevator version.

A list-maker (flaw) woman (heroine) must throw caution aside if she is to save the family business AND have a baby (goal) within the next year. If she fails, she'll lose everything (life-changing event). With the help of a confirmed fly-by the-seat-of-his-pants out of work artist (ally), she finds that life can be sweeter -- and more rewarding in all the important ways -- when lived one day at a time. (implied journey).

Now, that may be so far off base to what your story is really like that it won't help, but maybe it will. I hope you don't mind me giving it a try.

Alice Sharpe said...

Paty, LOL that book isn't sold yet, it's just being waited for. We'll see.

And Wavy, this isn't a blurb, this doesn't need names, this is a scenario based on Sylvie's 7 basic elements.

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Okay, I succumbed to peer pressure.

Alice, here's my crappy ditty:

A non-trusting (flaw) woman in hiding (heroine) must steal an ancient Egyptian artifact to prove her innocence for a crime she didn’t commit (goal) and protect those she loves against retaliation from a deranged treasure-hunter (opponent). When her planned theft goes awry (life-changing event), she’s forced to turn to a shady antiquities dealer – and a man from her past - (ally) to locate the missing artifact. In order to survive, she must put her trust in him and discover the truth isn’t always what it appears to be (implied journey).

Hack away, ladies. :)

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Okay, and you know what? By doing that ditty, I just realized what's wrong with my wip.

Thanks, Karen. I think I just had an aha moment!

Alice Sharpe said...

Eli --

No hacking, it looks good to me! And fascinating! I would love to hear what your aha moment was and how you came about seeing it in what you wrote.

wavybrains said...

Yes, Eli--share the Aha! moment, I'm in desperate need of one of those too, and maybe seeing yours will help.

Thanks Paty and Alice--I think you both helped me focus in on what's important. I keep feeling like there's not enough conflict--but it's the conflict that keeps bogging everything down. GRRr. Getting closer though. Thanks so much!!! You guys really helped!

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Alice and Wavy, the aha! moment isn't all that earth shattering, but I'll share anyway.

Doing the ditty made me realize this is - essentially - my heroine's story. We've talked about the fact even in a romance, a book is more centered around one primary character than the other. It's her book. She's the one who has to grow and change the most. Alice, you and I discussed identity and essence on the way back from Dallas. This just reaffirmed to me what her flaw (identity) really is and what she has to do to get to her essence, how the hero plays a major roll in taking her there, etc. I also realized that the conflict early on needs to be sharpened and honed to fit in with the little ditty I wrote here. ;)

Alice Sharpe said...

Oh, Eli, that is so neat.

Karen -- hello? Your turrn, girlfriend ...

Paty Jager said...

Okay, I see I flunked the test! LOL I put in a name and didn't really introduce my hero by his flaw. Ack! I'm no good at these pop quizzes.

But you all have some excellent ditties and I want to read every one of these books!

Thanks for making us all strengthen our plots/stories and think about our characters in a different light, Karen.

Karen Duvall said...

I'm glad you all got so much out of Sylvie's exercise. Sheesh, I still haven't had a chance do mine. Waaah! I worked until 7 pm tonight and then could no longer focus my eyes on a computer screen. This week's been especially hectic and I'm not happy. 8^(

You guys did so great! Paty, yours is still wonderful, even if you didn't do it "exactly" like Sylvie instructed. Hey, you gotta start somewhere.

Wavy, what a great story! And Alice, what a wonderful job you did of consolidating all the points Wavy was trying to make.

Alice, I gotta read your book, girlfriend. Sounds like a winner to me.

Eli, how awesome that you had an "aha" moment! Sylvie said she had one, too, and you know what? When she distilled her concept down to the 7 elements, she also figured out it was her heroine's story, not the hero's. So you're in good company.

Maybe this weekend I'll get to my concept. Lord knows I think about it all the time. I'd been planning on a 3 day weekend starting tomorrow, but after everything that transpired today, it looks like I'll be working tomorrow as well as most of Saturday and Sunday. Sometimes it sucks having your own business. Groan.

Alice Sharpe said...

Karen -- I'm going to use this today on the 2nd book in this proposal, the book that has been harder for me to pin down.

I encourage you to take fifteen minutes and do this -- it doesn't take forever, really. Just copy Sylvie's statement, then plug in your own stuff (freed from structure and wording concerns, it lets you think about content.) Maybe if you do this, your subconscious can relax and do its thing while your conscious mind takes care of other business.

It doesn't take that long. Really.


Danita Cahill said...

Glad you recapped Sylvie's workshop, Karen. We have been on the run around here and I haven't even been online for days, so it's nice to have it layed out simple like that.

Lisa Pulliam said...

Karen, THANK YOU! This is wonderful! I don't have a concept yet (lol), but this really helps me trim down the zillions of thoughts going in my head and pinpoint just what the book is about. I'm getting so wrapped up in creating this world that I'm losing sight of the characters and story of this book. This is great! I'm going to have to give this a try tonight, thank you!!!